Tegan the Vegan – A Short Film About Love and Courage | HerCanberra

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Tegan the Vegan – A Short Film About Love and Courage

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“Tegan is 12, in love with Trent, the coolest boy in class, and just found out where meat comes from.”

That is the opening blurb of the introduction to Tegan the Vegan, a short animation film by Queanbeyan artist Marisa Martin, which has won several national and international awards including the Canada International Film Festival and the Woodland Film Festival since its launch in 2011. For the last year, Tegan and her friends have been stars of the show at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra.

Tegan inhabits a simple world of bright colours and rustic charm. Her brother, Dorian, is irritating and her best friend Elenore is blond, blue-eyed and simpers at Trent with the confidence that comes with being the prettiest girl in class.

Her idyllic life is shattered one day when she makes the connection between meat and animals and vows never to eat meat again. Not only does she have to face the cruel reality of animal suffering, but her friends turn on her with mocking spite, egged on by the schoolteacher, purple-haired and odious Mrs. Poodle, played by Noni Hazelhurst.

Hazlehurst also plays Tegan’s mother, the polar opposite of Mrs. Poodle. Her response to Tegan’s declaration that she cannot eat anything that comes from animals is to explain what veganism is and conclude calmly that, “we’ll figure something out.”

They do, and Tegan’s courage in sticking to her principles and being true to herself win Trent’s heart and the respect of her school mates. But the film is much more than clay boy meets clay girl, it’s a witty and magical study of social exclusion and prejudice that resonates with children and adults alike. It’s been by far the most popular exhibit in the NFSA gallery, holding classes mesmerized.

“The school kids love Tegan. Whole classes just come and sit down and watch the film all the way through. That’s 12 minutes of sitting still!”

Marisa and I meet at the gallery to discuss the film, veganism and next steps for Tegan. Marisa stopped eating meat at the age of 12 and became vegan earlier this year. Like Tegan, Marisa has endured the anger and outrage of classmates and teachers who seemed to feel that vegan lifestyle choices are a direct threat to their own way of being.

“My teacher told me I was going to die as a vegetarian diet was so unhealthy, and my classmates teased me for being weird. I’ve even been accused of making the film to brainwash children and recruit young people into a dangerous and unhealthy alternate lifestyle. People get so angry when you say you are vegetarian or vegan – I mean, they talk about vegans forcing their views on others, but actually it is the other way round.”

Marisa makes a growly face, the Monster Vegan of popular lore.

“So this film was very cathartic for me. It’s about animals, yes, but it’s more about intolerance and I wanted it to be funny, engaging and enjoyable. I don’t like the films that show the horrific cruelty that goes on, because people just block that. So there are subtle hints about our double standards. For example at Elenore’s birthday party the kids are dressed up as cuddly animals while they eat burgers. Trent wears a “Smiths” tee shirt and hands Tegan a CD with songs like “Hanging Garden” by The Cure, which is about a slaughterhouse.”

“I never realised that,” I say.

“Yes, my partner was the same. When I told him he went back and read the lyrics again – and once you know it’s so obvious. So there are all these little clues. Like all the posters on the classroom wall for team stuff have cute animal mascots. So on the one hand we love animals and appreciate their qualities, and yet on the other we are killing them in awful ways.”

Not a single item in the film is derived from animal products; even the clay and the dyes have been checked, and Marisa tracked down special paper that does not have a gelatin coat. “It’s so difficult to find anything that doesn’t contain something that came from an animal’s body! I mean you would have thought that paper would be OK!”

Tegan the Vegan was Marisa’s first serious animation project, and it took her two and a half years to produce the 12 minutes on an ACT grant. The whole family pitched in, with her mother making the costumes, her father making the tiny wooden furniture and her brother rigging up the electrics. Noni Hazelhurst was joined by actors Paul McDermott, Charli Delaney and Pippa Black, and award-winning animation expert Mick Elliott lent his experience.

Marisa is one of the directors of Enemies of Reality, a production company she set up with her mother and other friends. Tegan has boosted her entrepreneurial spirit and confidence.

“Making Tegan was such a great experience,” says Marisa. “I’ve been contacted by so many parents who can see the importance of teaching their children about tolerance and difference. Tegan has her own website and Facebook page and I am thinking about making some dolls and story books.”

Attitudes towards veganism have changed over the last two decades, with vegan products now available in Woolworths and Coles and of course online. It’s easy to get information about vegan diets and to dispel the myths around protein deficiency and anemia.

“Look at me,” says Marisa. “Do I look undernourished?” We both laugh – Marisa radiates health. “Best of all, it’s now possible to get vegan chocolate and vegan ice-cream. Not the soy stuff, but really yummy coconut stuff. I can’t believe how easy it is to be vegan!”

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