Rusti The Orangutan

Honolulu Film Awards poster

 

4/12/2013

HONOLULU — Animal Advocate Inc.’s documentary “Rusti Escapes!” has been named an Aloha Accolade Award winner in the 2013 Honolulu Film Awards. 

Winning in the competition’s Hawaii Films category, we are gratified that Rusti’s story is receiving kudos in his hometown of Honolulu. 

“Rusti Escapes!” is one of only two films in this category to receive an Aloha Accolade Award this year.  “[Animal Advocate Inc.] should be very proud of this distinction as yours is one of only a small handful of select projects awarded this exclusive honor,” wrote Honolulu Film Awards Director Sean Stewart. “Only a maximum of 10 projects per competition category can be selected to receive this distinguished level of recognition.”

This is the fourth honor that “Rusti Escapes!” has received, having earned awards and accolades in film festivals and competitions in California, Maryland, Texas and Hawaii.

… read more about “Rusti Escapes!” below

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“Journey to Utopia”

By Scott Davis, 10/19/12

Animal Advocate Inc.’s film “Rusti Escapes!” wins award for Best Short Film at the 2012 Utopia Film Festival


Rusti in substandard cage at the Honolulu Zoo

GREENBELT, Md.—“Film is quite possibly the most powerful of all mediums,” said Executive Director Susan Gervasi before announcing “Rusti Escapes!” as the Best Short Film of the 2012 Utopia Film Festival in Maryland last week. 

Judged against more than 30 independent short films from across the world, “Rusti Escapes!” was one of four films in the festival to receive an award. The documentary is the first by Animal Advocate Inc. and chronicles the incredible story of one of Hawaii’s most famous residents—Rusti the orangutan.

Producer/director Pam Davis and screenwriter Scott Davis flew more than 5,000 miles from Honolulu to accept the award on behalf of Rusti.

Our jetlag was eclipsed by an unforgettable filmmakers’ reception that featured a meet and greet with filmmakers and the volunteers who made the Utopia Film Festival possible. A screening of legendary underground filmmaker Jeff Krulik’s documentary “Ernest Borgnine on the Bus” followed the Oct. 19 awards ceremony, concluding opening night after a Q&A about the film.

Established in 2005, the Utopia Film Festival is the first international film festival in Prince George’s county. According to its website, Utopia seeks out quality independent films which reflect the utopian spirit of better living through cinema.

“Part of the idea of Utopia is acknowledging films that create a better world,” said Gervasi. “What [Animal Advocate Inc.] did with Rusti was say, ‘Here’s a helpless animal that’s caught in the system and there are many others like this—and that’s a utopian concept.”

Producer/director Pam Davis and screenwriter Scott Davis

The eighth annual Utopia Film Festival featured more than 50 films from as far away as Germany, India, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and Iran. “Rusti Escapes!” was the festival’s only film advocating for animals and received a hardy round of applause after each of its two screenings.

Showcased in front of audiences from the greater Washington, D.C. area, “Rusti Escapes!” premiered at the Greenbelt Arts Center on Oct. 21 and screened that night at the Beltway Plaza Mall’s Academy 8 Theaters as part of the festival’s best-in-show program. It is scheduled to broadcast on Greenbelt Access Television, which is the festival’s primary sponsor.

The Best Short Film award is the third honor “Rusti Escapes!” has received this year, earning an Award of Excellence at the Best Shorts Competition in California and an honorable mention at the Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival in Texas.

Also receiving awards at Utopia were the films “The Wheel” (Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Creativity), “Cardboard” (Best Young Filmmaker award) and “Opening Our Eyes: Global Stories About the Power of One” (Utopian Visions Award).

The Utopia Film Festival had seven programs including romance, horror, action, comedy, animation and shorts. Documentaries seen by Animal Advocate Inc. were the Alice Walker-narrarated film “Roadmap to Apartheid,” which compares apartheid South Africa to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and “Opening Our Eyes: Global Stories About the Power of One,” an inspiring film about ordinary people making extraordinary differences in the world, among others.

Former Utopia Director Chris Haley, with 2012 Utopia Director Susan Gervasi, and GATE-TV president Bob Zugby, cutting the 8th anniversary cake for Utopia Film Festival

One of the most impressive offerings of the film festival was its two-hour access to Docs In Progress, a Maryland nonprofit dedicated to providing the skills and resources necessary to tell stories through film. Two student films were professionally critiqued at the festival through its invaluable service of screening unfinished works.

The historic city of Greenbelt, created by Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the New Deal of the 1930s, is a cooperative garden community founded on a utopian vision for better living. Animal Advocate Inc. thanks the Utopia Film Festival for recognizing “Rusti Escapes!” as being a utopian film, and is grateful for the opportunity to bring animal issues to its audience.

Filmmaker award ceremony (from left): Susan Gervasi (Director of Utopia 2012), with producers Jeff Krulik, Pam Davis, Tara Azarian, and Tom Kelly (for Gail Mooney)

Animal Advocate Inc.’s utopian vision is a world of peace, justice and equality for humans and for animals, and we believe that journey starts with the latter.

 

Link to Utopia Film Festival 2012 Website: http://www.utopiafilmfestival.org/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/142364145555/?ref=ts&fref=ts

— Look for Rusti in the Official Utopia Film Festival Trailer on this Facebook page!

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Watch the movie below!

 

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Rusti Escapes! Wins Award of Excellence at Best Shorts Competition Film Festival

7/16/2012

HONOLULU — Animal Advocate Inc. has won an Award of Excellence in the 2012 Best Shorts Competition in La Jolla, Calif., for its documentary film “Rusti Escapes!”

Competing against independent producers from across the world, the movie was judged to be among the best in the film festival’s category of Women Filmmakers. No more than 15 percent of all entries are granted this award, which recognizes exceptional achievement in craft and creativity. This is our first documentary film, and we are honored that our film was chosen for recognition by the film festival.

 

                                      AWARD OF EXCELLENCE, 2012

 

Click on link below for Best Shorts Competition:

Best Shorts Competition | LaJolla, CA 92037

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“Rusti Escapes!”  Earns an Honorable Mention at the Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival

9/30/2012

Rusti’s story has now received recognition in Texas!

Bayou City Inspirational Film Festival

 

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“Rusti Escapes!”  Is Now a Part of the new Animal Advocacy Museum Collection

5/2/2013

“Rusti Escapes!”  will now be part of the collection at the Animal Advocacy Museum in Pasadena, California.  The museum celebrated its grand opening event on March 30, 2013.

The Animal Advocacy Museum was created to educate the public about the myriad of important issues surrounding the way animals are treated.  The goal of the Animal Advocacy Museum is to help inspire people to see animal advocacy as a logical and natural next step for them to take.

For opening night, the museum highlighted the work of activist artists including Sue Coe, Charles “Chick” Bragg, Robert McCoy, and Patrick McDonnell. In the future, a wide range of exhibits will be featured, including animals used for food, puppy mills, animals used In fashion, laboratories testing on animals, health reasons to go vegan, animals used In entertainment, and speciesism.

The museum plans to host events with authors, chefs, celebrities, and musicians, and will partner with other social justice movements on joint events.

 Next time you are in the Los Angeles area, don’t miss the Animal Advocacy Museum. It is located at 280 S. Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena.

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 You can Like Us on Rusti’s Facebook Page:

http://www.facebook.com/RustiOrangutanMovie

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Rusti’s Living Quarters, New Jersey roadside zoo. Photo Credit: New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife

New Documentary Short Film:

RUSTI ESCAPES!

 

RUNTIME: 20 Minutes

DATE OF RELEASE: February 2012

FORMS: Documentary, Short, Television

GENRES: Nature, Independent, Wildlife, Environmental, Docu-Drama, Social Issue, News

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“Finding a home for a 275 lb. orangutan was not an easy task, especially for Rusti. After years of waiting, hoping and people fighting for him, there seems to be a light at the end of a long tunnel, but unfortunately, the tunnel took many turns before he could consider himself happy.”

 

Rusti the orangutan is one of Honolulu, Hawaii’s most famous residents, but few people know his true life story. Rusti was an animal no one wanted — not even his own mother, who rejected him after his birth in 1980 at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

Rusti ended up in a cold, concrete cell at an unaccredited “roadside zoo” in New Jersey, where his life and health were threatened by freezing winters and inadequate care. New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife inspection photos and reports reveal the zoo’s deplorable conditions and the misery of the animals forced to live there.

Rusti’s story is an example of the hard-luck life of one ex-roadside zoo animal. The documentary provides a glimpse into the world of roadside zoos, exposes government corruption and elicits a sense of compassion for animals confined behind bars.

Rusti languishing in a 1950’s-era cage at the Honolulu Zoo. Photo by: Carroll Cox.

 

“Rusti Escapes!” tells the tale of Rusti’s life in documentary form — but also literally gives Rusti a voice via a fantasy sequence where he is interviewed by a reporter after escaping from the Honolulu Zoo.

Rusti had languished for about 9 years in a substandard cage at the Honolulu Zoo, which followed on the heels of his years of confinement in a concrete block enclosure at the Terry Lou Zoo in Scotch Plains, New Jersey.

The fantasy sequence, filmed in a cave where Rusti is hiding out after his zoo escape, allows Rusti to tell his side of the story, having been locked up his entire life.

We chose this hybrid format — documentary and fantasy narrative — because as animal advocates we believed it was necessary to personify Rusti. He never had a say in what happened in his life, so we gave him a voice.

Orangutan Foundation International (OFI), a nonprofit organization, took Rusti from the New Jersey roadside zoo with the understanding that it would build him a sanctuary in the Pana’ewa Rainforest on the Big Island of Hawai’i. During the sanctuary construction, Rusti was to be housed “temporarily” at the Honolulu Zoo. However, in the making of this film, we uncovered documents showing that OFI met with officials from the State of Hawai’i and the City and County of Honolulu, behind closed doors, to try to facilitate the transfer of Rusti from the Honolulu Zoo to yet another roadside zoo — this one called Kualoa Ranch, located on the island of O’ahu.

Unauthorized cage for Rusti at Kualoa Ranch, island of O’ahu. Photo by: Pam Davis

OFI’s efforts were rewarded when the State of Hawai’i Department of Agriculture approved Rusti’s relocation to Kualoa Ranch. A petition for declaratory ruling and a court case slowed down the progress, but it was a building violation that ultimately put a snag in OFI’s plans. OFI and Kualoa Ranch began building a cage for Rusti, but did so without obtaining a building permit. Many people expressed concerns about the structural integrity of the cage, fearing Rusti would be able to escape and possibly be killed like Tyke the elephant was on the streets of Honolulu in 1994. A USDA inspector visited the Kualoa Ranch property, and deemed the cage unfit to securely hold the 275-lb. orangutan. This plan, to move Rusti to another roadside zoo, was a tragedy just waiting to happen.

Roadside zoos are not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. They are found across the United States and throughout the rest of the world as well. Rusti’s story is especially poignant because he is an orangutan, which is an endangered specie. Like humans, orangutans are members of the great ape family. In fact, Rusti tells the reporter in the film that orangutans and humans share 97 percent of their DNA. Despite that, Rusti’s life counted for very little. Because he is not a purebred orangutan, Rusti was unwanted by the accredited zoos.

Rusti in metal and concrete cage at the Honolulu Zoo. Photo by: Carroll Cox

Rusti’s story is sad, but he is not alone in his suffering.

The fact is, in our society animals are without rights, often simply pawns used for business purposes and the amusement of humans. Like slaves, they can be traded and sold as property, but there are real consequences for these animals in the quality of their lives. Many people are unaware of how roadside zoos operate and how animals are treated in these unaccredited facilities. A family outing to a roadside zoo might seem like a fun event, but most people are oblivious to the horrors taking place when paying visitors leave. We hope our film will provide people with the information they need, and show why they should not patronize these establishments.

Violation Notice issued for Kualoa Ranch cage, which was built for Rusti without a building permit.

 

CREDITS:

Director/Editor: Pam Davis

Writer: Scott Davis

Music: Alexandra Richardson

Videography: Carroll Cox

Editing and Creative Consultant: Kenna Doeringer

Voice of Rusti: Michael Yang

Voice of New Jersey Fish & Wildlife Inspector: Danny Randerson

“Utopian Beginnings:  An Interview With Chris Haley”

GREENBELT, Md.—When the Utopia Film Festival launched in Maryland in 2005, its founders at Greenbelt Access Television were unsure if it should be called an annual event. Prince George’s county had never seen an international film festival before, and that year Utopia struggled to screen movies from outside the United States.

“We started out with 40-something films in the first year but it was very local,” said six-time festival director Chris Haley. “The quality of films has evolved greatly since then and the span and scope is now worldwide.”

The Utopia Film Festival began to blossom under Haley, who became its executive director in 2006. The next year he registered Utopia on Withoutabox—a move that expanded the festival’s potential to receive submissions by 400,000 filmmakers. The Withoutabox website allows filmmakers to submit films to more than 850 festivals worldwide.

Haley, a filmmaker whose feature-length picture “The Studio” debuted in the inaugural Utopia Film Festival, said a festival is not successful until at least its third year. It took seven years for Utopia to gain media headway, written about in The Washington Post in a 2011 article previewing the event.

“One of the big things about a film festival, as you research it, is if you can get through years three and five you are a success,” said Haley. “Those are your major trouble years and now we are on year eight — which by my calculations is almost three times three.”

Haley, 53, highlighted a love and respect for film and filmmakers as his primary reason for joining the Utopia Film Festival’s all-volunteer staff. About 10 to 20 volunteers spend hundreds of hours yearly to give independent filmmakers a shot at seeing their work on the big screen.

“The best part is when you have a filmmaker see their film on a big screen with an audience watching it,” said Haley. “To see the joy and pride on that filmmaker’s face — that’s the best part of the film festival.”

This year Haley enjoyed the Utopia Film Festival as a spectator rather than its executive director. The Washington D.C. native recently accepted work as Director of the Study of the Legacy of Slavery at the Maryland State Archives, passing his torch at Utopia to Executive Director Susan Gervasi.

Haley, a professional actor who has appeared in HBO’s “The Wire” and co-founded and hosted the Maryland radio series “Undiscovered Radio,” said his work at Utopia ranks among the highlights of his life. Gervasi, a journalist and an award-winning filmmaker, described organizing the Utopia Film Festival for her first time as a “challenging labor of love.”

It is hard not to love the Utopia Film Festival, which Haley, Gervasi and Animal Advocate Inc. foresee blazing trails of success for many years to come.

– By Scott Davis, Animal Advocate Inc.

Chris Haley