Adam Ash

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

So there was this group of guys who liked getting fucked by horses (I swear, I'm not kidding)

HORSEPLAY
Hot to Trot
A new documentary reveals that bestiality is alive and kicking
By John Cook/Radar


Late one evening in July 2005, a 45-year-old Seattle Boeing engineer named Kenneth Pinyan was dropped off at a hospital in rural Washington state, suffering from a perforated colon. He died hours later. When a subsequent investigation revealed that Pinyan's injury had been sustained during anal intercourse with a horse, and that he had been part of a community of equine-curious men who would meet periodically at a farm to film their sexual escapades with stallions, a tabloid story was born. Local and national media had a field day mocking not only the group, but the state of Washington itself, which, astonishingly, had no laws prohibiting bestiality at the time (the state has since banned the practice).

It's not the most shocking thing in the world. If you figure someone can fit his arm inside somebody, a horse is not that much bigger. It's just that people do different things to get their kicks. Seattle filmmaker Robinson Devor saw a larger story behind the snickering—a man had died, after all—and went to work on Zoo, an uncomfortably sympathetic look at the Emunclaw, Washington, horse-fucking scene, due in theaters this May. Featuring audio interviews with several of the self-described "Zoophiles," all of whom refused to appear on camera, Zoo relies heavily on gorgeous, impressionistically shot re-enactments to illustrate Pinyan's story. (At the request of his family, he's referred to only by his Internet handle, "Mr. Hands.") After the film's premiere at Sundance, Devor sat down with Radar at his Park City, Utah, lodge to discuss the intersection of art, empathy, and bestiality.

RADAR: Your documentary is about a group of men who meet regularly at a farm outside Seattle to party and have sex with horses. Is it tolerant of that behavior?
ROBINSON DEVOR: I suppose so. I think it was an opportunity to look at the world through someone else's eyes. I have my own way of trying to do that. I was trying to counterbalance what was clearly going to be perceived as an unattractive subject matter. We had to do something that was aesthetically more pleasing, so it might seem as though we're romanticizing or showing tolerance. But I wouldn't say I'm against them. I think the main thing is to try to give them their voice.

When you hear about men having sex with horses, initially it's kind of confusing to the layman as to precisely what that means. How did you broach that subject? How does it happen mechanically?
I was shown things that made it very clear. You wonder about how this happens, and you're shown examples of animals behaving a certain way without constraints and things and that has its factor to it. But that doesn't mean there isn't certain conditioning involved, and some people might find that conditioning to be the very core issue that isn't appropriate. But the thing they had said is that as a living creature, if you're open to something and you put out a vibe, that creature will respond to you. It's not an unreasonable thing to say.

Isn't there a part of you that wants to mock or ridicule people who do that? Isn't it just sick?
My reaction to this is pretty obvious. I still have a tough time getting my head around it as vividly as I could, and I protect my own self, because it is nothing I want to do, so I use aesthetics to allow me to go some place and I protect myself with an atmosphere or a mood or something that is acceptable to me in terms of storytelling. I think if it came down to me witnessing something like this I might have a totally visceral reaction to it that could go either way. I might not feel great about it—

What was your reaction when you saw tapes—
I'm talking about live. There was a time when I was invited to see something like that, it never happened, but—

Why didn't it happen?
The invitation was rescinded. That was back in the time when we weren't really trusting one another, and then we got a good rapport and then it was just too late. I kind of see this as human behavior, as a different kind of community and I'm interested in depicting it as best I can. For me, I was aestheticizing it, anestheticizing it with beauty. The world that they were part of, and the animals, were all innately beautiful things, and as long as there was no undertone of violence or uncomfortableness and if I felt there was sincerity in there concern for animals and their ability to show love and remorse for their friend who died ... those are all things that I think are okay.

So the movie shows a second or so of actual videotape of one of these men getting, um, mounted. What was your reaction when you saw the footage?
I wouldn't say it was anything that really shocked me terribly.

Wouldn't it shock most people?
In this day and age, the fact is—let's say you're in Seattle and someone talks to you about fisting in the gay community. That's just something you hear about. It's not the most shocking thing in the world. If you figure someone can fit his arm inside somebody, a horse is not that much bigger. It's just that people do different things to get their kicks. The thing that's shocking though, is that it's a monstrously powerful entity over you. It's not even the sexual aspect. It's the danger, the sheer audacity of a fragile human being. Do anything under a horse and you're in danger. That's the shocking thing to me; a human looks very delicate compared to a horse.

Why do you think people wind up wanting to do this?
Some people might say that they might be hotwired that way biologically. That's a difficult thing to say. I think some people would say it's not so different from other orientations. But the sexual aspect, for zoophiles, is not the essence of what they're drawn to. For instance, the gentleman who died, he was a city person, working in a military complex, a very high-tech, brilliant engineering mind. He wanted to have the simple life. He owned horses and wanted to go out and be on a ranch on the weekend. There is this blending of the archetypal farmer and outdoorsman, for some it would be a contrast to their 21st century life to reject that for a few days and spend time out on the grass with animals. Crossing over into something sexual is a whole other thing, but the definition of zoos is—that is something that can happen, because there is a close affection and affinity and caring that is going on, a bond between owners and animals.

Did you find many other examples of this kind of behavior? Humans and horses have been around for a long time.
What you hear in rural communities is that farmers have been lying down with their animals to keep warm for the longest time. I don't know if you remember Brother's Keeper, the documentary, but incest happens in those situations too. It's a warmth thing, and somebody gets excited or something in the night. It happens. It's funny, the further out we get from the city the more somebody would cooperate or talk with us about it. Of course, the Kinsey report, back in the 1950s—I can't remember exactly, but it was a pretty high percentage of people who had sex with animals. I think it was like 7 or 8 percent. It was high. [Editor's note: It was 8 percent of all males, and 17 percent of male farmers.]

I would never have predicted I would do a movie about this. And having sex with animals is one of the least interesting things about this. It's more about what a diverse group of people these men were, how they got together, what they would do when they hung out together, how wonderful and boring every day was, what the geography of their place was, how they were treated, how they feel now. So again, I kind of distance myself a little bit from the sex with animals discussion, which was at its core. It's more a movie about people than having sex with animals.

Sure, but it's only surprising or interesting because of what they do.
No, you are absolutely right. It has to have that fulcrum.

It sounds like the coverage disturbed you, how it played out in Seattle.
Not really. That would paint me as a much more noble person. It was an examination of my own reaction as well. I was not exempt from feeling great titillation and all sorts of things that everybody else did. I was no different. But when you think about it for a second, it becomes a great opportunity. Any journalist or artist is looking for a way to tell a unique story, trying to find an in. The initial thing was, let's find the most positive things about this guy and really make it a portrait about him and see how this thing sits. It was difficult building a portrait of him. It wasn't like everybody was saying he was just the greatest guy, and so thoughtful, you know? He was a complicated guy. He was a complex guy.

Everybody has walked out of the house and done something that they don't want the world to know about. I thought it was interesting that there were candid descriptions of some of the things they didn't like about him. A lot of people said there was a certain intellectual arrogance about this man that they didn't like. And that to me just reflected a human characteristic, as opposed to being out in the barn with an animal; you're not dealing with intellectual arrogance there.

How did you get them to trust you? How did you track them down?
They were pretty much impossible to track down. They came to us. My partner's a journalist and he writes for a weekly in Seattle and he has that beacon people can connect to through the paper. And so, a few people would send him e-mails and one day we got one that made us feel that this was a person who was possibly there with him that night, and I took a shot at thinking he was and we corresponded anonymously—he was anonymous, I wasn't—and eventually he came forward and said, This is who I am. So I met one of them in person and we had a good rapport and he seemed to trust me and he was a friend of them. And it went from one person to the next and then to the next.

He had a son, right? How will this film affect him?
His child is autistic. One of the small silver linings in this is he might not have a clear perception of the way his father died. But there's also, let's say he wasn't autistic, without this film there would only be all of these blogs and stories out there ridiculing his dad. And so, we thought that we could get in some positive things that might start to barely crack the surface of what will probably be a very complex man that I will never know. But that I believe had some very positive feelings toward his son and his son's mother and was a responsible dad in many, many ways, and somebody who cared about his kids. If that ever kind of helps to create that perception that this wasn't just a guy trying to get his freak on in the farmlands, that would be a good thing.

Is it your case that there's something wrong with looking at him as a freak in the woods?
I'm kind of straddling those two camps. Because there are all sorts of different people in the world, they're all going to have their opinions. I'm not trying to change that or tell them that they're wrong. But everybody has walked out of the house and done something that they don't want the world to know about. And you can either sympathize with that situation and not be hypocritical about it on some level—but this is an extreme thing. My responsibility is to expose people to different ways of thinking, and my next responsibility is to the people who are in the film, to not disrespect them, because they're talking to me.

Have they seen the film?
Not yet. I'll be nervous when they do. I really think you couldn't have much more of a sympathetic portrait. I'm sure they'll think I overromanticized it and things. But I'm a storyteller right now.

What did you romanticize?
I have them walking through blooming rhododendrons just to symbolize desire, as a contrast to a very sober thought process. The two people we cast don't look like them for a purpose, so that their identity will not be confused. I hope they won't think any of these guys are caricatures.

You dramatized some scenes of Mr. Hands's brother dealing with all this. How would you react if you learned that your brother was into that sort of thing?
It depends on how my brother would say it to me. Of course, I would think about the things everybody else thinks about, How is this possible? Aren't you hurting any animals? I'm not a very judgmental person. If you're not hurting somebody and you're trying to be a decent person, how your sexuality is defined is not the way you should be judged. The real question is if you're harming someone.

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