In 2021, a pregnant pig named Matilda escaped from a farm in Nottinghamshire, England, and gave birth to her ten piglets in the woods. Thanks to the work of Brinsley Animal Rescue, Matilda and her piglets were moved to the Surge animal sanctuary. They have lived there ever since, safe from the slaughter that awaited them at the farm.
Matilda’s story made headlines and moved people around the world. One of those people was photographer, videographer, and animal activist Jusep Moreno who decided to turn Matilda’s story into a documentary.
“When Pigs Escape,” Moreno’s first documentary, recounts the campaign to save Matilda and her piglets from being returned to the farm. It also explores the new lives that the pigs have enjoyed since being rescued.
Sentient Media spoke with Moreno about his experience making the documentary and what he hopes it will achieve.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Markos Hasiotis: Congratulations on your new film. What motivated you to make it?
Jusep Moreno: My main motivation to make this documentary was to acknowledge Matilda’s act of resistance and to elevate her story after she escaped from a farm to give birth to her piglets. I had read a few books on the topic of animal resistance, specifically Animal Resistance in the Global Capitalist Era, by Sarat Colling and Fear of the Animal Planet, by Jason Hribal, which gave me a new perspective on animal agency and the efforts nonhuman animals make to resist their exploitation. When I heard about Matilda’s story, I thought: this is one of those acts of resistance. It was so local to me that I told myself I had to document it if no one else was going to.
Markos: Matilda’s story made such waves around the world, why do you think it resonated so much with people?
Jusep: This is a fascinating question that brings many thoughts to mind. I would say it was the result of many aspects. One of the most important was probably the fact that it was a story about an individual pig—who was also named shortly after. I also think Matilda’s story resonated with so many because people could see her—and her piglets. If the story had only been covered in writing and without images or video, I think people’s reactions wouldn’t have been the same. Seeing them helped the general public empathize with the pig family’s plight.
Markos: What’s it like filming with pigs? Are they easy to work with?
Jusep: In terms of the experience itself, it is a joy. It is wonderful to be around the company of pigs. They are usually so friendly and expressive. Having said that, filming them can be a bit trickier. Something inherent to filming with pigs was my inability to direct them—I couldn’t just make a schedule of the things we would do one day or ask them to repeat something they just did, which meant I had to adapt to their schedule and not the other way around and be prepared for things to happen suddenly. Apart from that, no piece of equipment escaped their muddy snouts, and I had to be very mindful and keep a distance from them because sometimes they were very interested in the fluffy microphone standing on top of the camera. Whenever the microphone would be within their reach, they would play with it, making the recording almost unusable. Maybe I will get them a toy microphone for their birthday.
Markos: I’m sure they’d love that! Were there any memorable or surprising moments that occurred during the making of the documentary?
Jusep: There were two moments I was anticipating with great expectation. The first one was when the piglets were old enough to leave the stable and wander around the fields with Matilda. It was something so ordinary in itself—just a family of pigs in a field—but then when you think of the lives pigs have on farms, it made that an extraordinary sight.
The second was the removal of Matilda’s nose ring—which farmers use to stop the pigs from digging up the soil. It was one of the most unpredictable parts of the documentary, as it was impossible to know for sure how she would feel about that. Of course, all these events are included in the documentary.
Markos: On the flip side, were there any challenges?
Jusep: Everywhere! On the one hand, I have a part-time job that has nothing to do with filmmaking, so it was difficult to combine the filming days with my other work. I always had my fingers crossed, hoping nothing relevant for the documentary would happen while I was away and unable to jump on a bus and go to visit the pigs. Luckily, everything worked out well in the end. Also, on a filming day, I ended up in A&E with a suspected heat stroke, which kept me away from the pigs for a day or two.
On the other hand, at the time of putting the footage together, I was worried about the possibility that it wouldn’t fit together. One day I would get emotional watching the footage, thinking that the story is looking quite nice and flowing smoothly, and the day after I would tell myself that this is very embarrassing and that I can’t show this to anyone, ever. Overall, I would say things went really well, mostly thanks to the help of both Brinsley Animal Rescue and Surge Sanctuary, who welcomed me to film at their respective sanctuaries and were nothing short of fantastic.
Markos: Wow, you did well to overcome such intense challenges! Could you talk to us about your personal views on the farming and eating of animals? Did making this film affect those views?
Jusep: I see the use we humans make of other animals as a moral atrocity, although I have to say I haven’t always felt this way. For many years in my life, I never questioned the ethics of using other animals and my views were just a result of a society that supports and normalizes their exploitation.
Making the documentary didn’t affect those views because I had thought about my relationship with other animals years ago and changed accordingly back then. Something that did transform my views about the farming and eating of animals was when I started volunteering at my local sanctuary, Brinsley Animal Rescue. Spending time with the same animals every week helped me appreciate their unique personalities and build relationships with them.
Markos: What are your hopes for this film, what would you like it to accomplish?
Jusep: I didn’t start the film with a goal at the back of my head other than to document Matilda’s story and her life after being rescued with her family. At that point, all I wanted to do was to create a record that would bring this story to more people.
Once I was in the editing stage, I had two general hopes. One is that the film will educate the general public about pigs in a different way from how we are used to. The documentary doesn’t provide facts about pigs or detailed narrations of what you are seeing. Instead, the audience is invited to discover pigs by themselves and to get to know them on their own terms. Personally, I think the problem is not that we don’t know certain things about pigs, but that we rarely have the opportunity to see them or interact with them in a context where they are not being exploited. The documentary is about showing pigs living in this scenario where they can coexist with humans respectfully.
The second hope I have for the documentary is that it will be useful as a self-care resource to avoid burnout in animal advocacy circles, and for animal advocates who do not have easy access to interacting with pigs in animal sanctuaries. The documentary is an inspiring and uplifting story that shows the kind of things we can achieve when we all come together. Maybe I am too optimistic, but watching films about other animals has helped me reassert my commitment to animal liberation, and it is my hope that this documentary will have a similar effect on others, and that it will encourage them to take action, too.
Markos: Do you have advice for people out there wanting to make their first documentary?
Jusep: I don’t feel like I can lecture anyone or give much advice after just having done my first one, but I can share a couple of things I learned by making mistakes. For example, a very specific one: always wear headphones while filming! Sound is so essential, and what you hear can sound very different from what your microphone is actually recording. The job of the headphones is to tell you exactly what your mic is capturing. Also, if you have a partner in crime to work with, it could make the whole process more bearable. It was exhausting for me to try to be a cameraperson, sound recordist, and somewhat direct, all at the same time. Although it has the benefit of making you very autonomous.
However, I think the best piece of advice I have is to pick a topic or a story you really care about. I know this may sound like a cliché, but it really is essential, because making a documentary is usually a long-term commitment, and managing to stay motivated is key to staying afloat during the inevitable ups and downs.
Markos: Last question… What’s next for you, do you have anything in the pipeline?
Jusep: Before Matilda’s story came out, I was working on a collection of essays for the abolition of bull-running (correbous) in Catalonia—where I come from—and I am planning to return to that once the documentary has been released and the workload decreases. I would like to work on more documentaries in the future, but right now I haven’t got anything really specific in mind. I just have some vague ideas around free-living rabbits, Canada geese, or bulls. I guess I am not in a rush.
When Pigs Escape is having its first scheduled screening at Nottingham’s Bonington Theatre on August 6th, tickets can be purchased here. The documentary is supported by the Culture and Animals Foundation.
Markos is a social media volunteer with Sentient Media.