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SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

`Zoo' is not just `eeew'

January 22, 2007|Kenneth Turan | Times Staff Writer

PARK CITY, UTAH — "Zoo" is a documentary about what director Robinson Devor accurately characterizes as "the last taboo, on the boundary of something comprehensible." But remarkably, an elegant, eerily lyrical film has resulted.

"Zoo," premiering before a rapt audience Saturday night at Sundance, manages to be a poetic film about a forbidden subject, a perfect marriage between a cool and contemplative director (the little-seen "Police Beat") and potentially incendiary subject matter: sex between men and animals. Not graphic in the least, this strange and strangely beautiful film combines audio interviews with elegiac visual re-creations intended to conjure up the mood and spirit of situations. Says the director: "I aestheticized the sleaze right out of it."

Devor and his writing partner, Charles Mudede, live in Seattle and were stunned, as were many in the state, when in 2005 a local man died after having sex with an Arabian stallion. Though bestiality is not illegal in Washington, the subsequent revelation of the existence of an Internet-based zoophile community (the men call themselves "zoos," hence the title) was a shock.

Though there was the inevitable tabloid fuss, what Devor calls "the prurient spectacle," the filmmaker was also "shocked that nobody did an in-depth look at this, that there was no investigative reporting rounding the story out with the psychology."

Though "Zoo" is intent on allowing these men to be heard, Devor's intention was not polemical. Rather, he envisioned a film like his others: "I count on the natural world pulling my films through. I thought the marriage of this completely strange mind-set and the beauty of the natural world could be something interesting."

In introducing "Zoo," Devor called it "a difficult film, and a difficult film to make.... A lot of people looked at me as if I was an exploitative person, dredging up something for profit, and that bothered me. I thought artists had the opportunity to explore anything. It happens, so it's part of who we are."

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