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Amid the controversy surrounding a troubling video which revealed a stressed German Shepherd was forced to perform in artificial rapids on the set of the upcoming A Dog’s Purpose, Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment have canceled the movie’s premiere, which was to have taken place in Los Angeles this weekend.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has called for a boycott of the film and is pushing for further action, calling on the director of the Amblin production, Lasse Hallstrom, and producer Gavin Polone to pledge never to use animals in films again and to rescue the dogs from Birds & Animals Unlimited, the training and handling facility said to be the provider of the canines. (The Hollywood Reporter wrote about alleged federal Animal Welfare Act violations at the company’s Acton, Calif., headquarters on July 11.)
In cancelling the premiere, Universal and Amblin on Thursday issued a statement saying, “Because Amblin’s review into the edited video released yesterday is still ongoing, distributor Universal Pictures has decided it is in the best interest of A Dog’s Purpose to cancel this weekend’s premiere and press junket. Amblin and Universal do not want anything to overshadow this film that celebrates the relationship between humans and animals.
“Since the emergence of the footage, Amblin has engaged with many associated with the production of the film, including safety personnel, trainers and stunt coordinators as part of their in-depth review. While we are all disheartened by the appearance of an animal in distress, everyone has assured us that Hercules the German Shepherd was not harmed throughout the filmmaking.”
A Dog’s Purpose is scheduled for wide release on Jan. 27.
Hallstrom did not return a request for comment about PETA’s most recent demand. Polone, however, was forceful in a conversation with THR (for which he regularly writes opinion columns about industry issues). A prominent Hollywood vegan and animal rights activist, he contends “PETA wants to fire up its base and it’s not productive. It’s also kind of crazy — I’m the person they should be strong-arming? This is a movie about promoting the idea of animals as sentient and deserving of empathy and rights.”
Polone went on to note that he’d worked with PETA in the past, but disagreed with its contention that no animals should be used in production. The organization has argued that CGI should solely be employed, but others in the industry insist that such technology would be cost-prohibitive. “It’s naïve and untenable and will never happen — we all know that,” the producer says. “What’s needed is a replacement for the [American Humane Association],” the non-profit monitoring group financed by producers that’s tasked with on-set animal oversight. (It’s known for its “No Animals Were Harmed” accreditation.) He continued, “There’s a person there all the time and clearly they are ineffective. That’s the issue and that’s what needs to be corrected.”
For its part, PETA has written to the AHA to ask for a complete copy of a report that the monitoring group claimed on Wednesday it had initiated as soon as it saw the footage, bringing in an independent investigator to spearhead. (It also placed the on-set AHA safety representative on administrative leave.) “We’re hearing that the monitor did not report [the incident] to her supervisors but the AHA gave the movie an acceptable rating anyway,” says Lange. “We don’t know if that is true, but we’re asking.”
When contacted by THR, the AHA declined to address PETA’s request. In 2013, THR exposed a history of complicity, internal cover-ups and failed investigative work at the monitoring group.
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