Inspired to create a short film exploring the ethics of Meat-eating after her friend – a lifelong vegan – began eating meat in her pregnancy, Ashley Williams’ Meats is a rich and intriguing short set to make you question your own dietary requirements. Citing Camas Davis’ memoir Killing It: An Education as further motivation for her storyline, Williams’ 11-minute film hopes to encourage its audience to consider the relationship between humans and their meat-based food and how that’s affected when you stare your food right in the face.
Opening with a shot of its pregnant protagonist Lane (played by Williams) looking directly into the camera through tear-filled eyes, if you hadn’t read the synopsis (or seen the title) of Meats you’d be forgiven for making assumptions about the subjects and themes it explores – the moral dilemma around meat consumption probably not top of your list. As we cut away from that initial shot, however, we soon become aware of our surroundings, as we’re peppered with meat-related images: jars of pâté, a metal pig statuette, an imposing butcher standing in front of a sign that reads ‘meats’.
Cutting back to Lane, we soon begin to understand what Meats is really about, as she launches into an impassioned explanation of why she finds herself, a vegan, standing in a butcher shop, in front of a lamb carcass. As she recalls the turkey binge she unexpectedly found herself embarking on over Thanksgiving, dumbstruck butcher Chris patiently listening to her confession, we also begin to understand what else Williams hopes to tackles in her narrative – the fears inherent with becoming a parent. “I wanted to take a look at the ethical dilemmas and the pathos that happens when raising children, in relationship to food and meat sources”, the filmmaker explains in her Director’s Notes.
Considering the subjects explored in Meats, you’d be forgiven for expecting a somewhat preachy and forceful approach to the storytelling, but Williams expertly sidesteps this by ensuring her film is rich in humour, sliding her message subtlety into our headspace, instead of hammering it home. Driven by her infectious, authentic portrayal as Lane, Williams’ performance is even more impressive when you understand that she isn’t even a vegan herself – admitting that she eats and “loves” meat. Not that playing a vegan should be a tough stretch for such an established actor, but she tackles her role with such vigour and emotion it’s hard not to be utterly captivated by her on-screen persona. Props also have to go real-life master butcher Giancarlo Sbarbaro for his turn as Chris, the chemistry the two share is integral to the film’s success.
Shot over six hours, in one night at Dickson’s Butcher shop in Chelsea Market, NYC, Meats is brought to screen through some solid production – no surprise when you consider cinematographer Roman Vasyanov can list End of Watch, Fury and Suicide Squad in his credits. However, the craft isn’t key in what makes the short so appealing, that’s really all down to the story and performances. One could argue that Meats doesn’t really have the innovative approach we usually seek to champion in our S/W picks, but with our love for storytelling, and its distinct, impactful narrative – it felt impossible to ignore.
Screened at Sundance 2020, Meats is Williams’ directorial debut, keep an eye out for more of her work, both in front and behind the camera, in the near future.