I Am An Animal, HBO’s documentary on PETA’s founder Ingrid Newkirk, debuts tonight

HBO profiles the founder of PETA with I Am An Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA, a documentary that debuts at 8 p.m. ET. The networks says “Newkirk may be the most influential person you’ve never heard of,” and says the “film offers a candid and introspective look at the beliefs and motives of the British-born, press-shy Newkirk who is both revered and despised for her uncompromising beliefs in the rights of animals.”

Director Matthew Galkin says in an interview that he hopes that after watching, “people will look at PETA differently regardless of where they stand on the issue of animal rights. I feel like there’s a real fight there and we’d like people to understand that there is some method to PETA’s madness, however offensive they appear to be sometimes. … And I think sometimes their tactics blur the real message, but I think the real message has a great deal of validity to it.”

If that sounds like his film is sympathetic toward the organization, its subject doesn’t agree. After watching the film, Newkirk told USA TODAY, “I’m not a morose person. I’m amazed at what (Galkin) left out and a bit uncomfortable about what he put in. I suppose people can make fun of me and deride us for the things we do. All that matters is we get out the stories of what’s being done to animals.”

In his review, Variety’s Brian Lowry says that while the film does “yield grotesque footage of animals being abused in, say, a slaughterhouse for turkeys before Thanksgiving[,] … The most powerful image that emerges from Galkin’s unblinking camera, in fact, doesn’t come from the slaughterhouses (however repellent those might be) but from the irritating sense of self-justification Newkirk and her colleagues bring to their mission.”

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