Human beings look to creatures like donkeys to underline man’s superiority. They like to remember that no human sounds so offputting, and no human are so easily coaxed with something as mundane as hay. But I wager any human who truly believes they’re on top of the food chain has never watched  donkey calf be born into this world.

They’ve never considered that the young of these animals need to lear to stand and walk quickly, lest it be rejected a chance at life. That would only underline how much weaker a human is than a donkey…and human beings are better than donkeys, right?

DO DONKEYS ACT? is a compiled glimpse at life in donkey sanctuaries. Here and there around the world, these preserves exist where the beasts of burden are rescued and raised. They are well-kept, well-fed, and well-groomed, and none seem to have a problem with filmmakers wandering around their keep photographing them for the world to see.

While we watch these splendid creatures on-camera, Willem Dafoe narrates over the footage in a manner that is less explanatory audio, and more philosophical musings.

The film is engaging, and yes I am sitting here and telling you to spend a little more than an hour watching donkeys wander around a farm. You will discover that they are far more social than any “real housewife”; sometimes more beautiful than any “top model”. Watching these creatures move about spaces that alternate between the expansive and the claustrophobic is incredible to see – especially considering how much trouble we mere mortals would have with such adaptations.

DO DONKEYS ACT? is a surprisingly zen film. Time after time, the camera is content to sit and linger on something like a donkey’s ears…or their furry flanks…or their eyes. We are brought into a meditative state, and held there to get in-touch with our innermost thoughts while looking one of the gentle beasts right in the eye. The experience becomes less a nature film, and more a film that allows us to question the nature of life itself.

In the end, I cannot say for certain whether or not donkeys act. Perhaps they are putting on a front to lower the suspicions of the mere mortals around them. Perhaps that abrasive bray is all a misdirection to repel any human around them while they conspire to take over the world. All I can say for sure is that never before have I spent seventy seconds considering the lives of donkeys, let alone seventy minutes…and suddenly, I feel like I’ve been missing out.


DO DONKEYS ACT? plays at Hot Docs 2017 once more at The Scotiabank Theatre, on Sunday May 7th – 8:30 pm. (official website)