Why the Long Face?

By Lawrence Ferber

Originally published on Advocate.com March 11 2009 11:00 PM ET

A horse-drawn carriage
ride through Manhattan's Central Park is a romantic lure and
memorable experience for many tourists (remember Will Smith's
gay carriage rendezvous in
Six Degrees of Separation

?). But gay stand-up comedian Donny Moss found nothing loving
about it while working on
Blinders

, an eye-opening documentary that exposes the brutally
inhumane, tragic, and downright dangerous side of NYC's
horse-drawn carriage industry.

Certain to educate and
sometimes appall with its accounts and images -- of horses
killed by run-ins with cars, forced to live in substandard
conditions, and one "retired" nag dispatched with a
bolt pistol --
Blinders

is a compelling piece that asks, and answers, the question of
whether horses have a place in modern-day congested city
centers.

Moss put his comedy
career and a full-time job in public affairs for a
pharmaceutical company on hold and invested substantial savings
in the 50-minute
Blinders

, which was nominated for a 2008 Genesis Award (the awards
ceremony will be held March 28). It screens March 20 at NYC's
Village East Cinema and will air on the Documentary Channel
during March and April.

By phone from his
downtown apartment -- where he lives with his partner of five
years, Jim, and a 16-year-old Jack Russell terrier -- Moss
discussed his documentary, how Alec Baldwin got involved, the
lesbian politician allegedly stonewalling a bill to ban
horse-drawn carriages in New York, and a sexy new attraction
that's already taking their place.

Advocate.com:Have you always been a horse person?Donny Moss:

I have not. I always considered myself an animal person. Like
so many gay men and women I think of my dog as my child --
she's coughing in the background -- but I'm a New
Yorker, I didn't know anything about horses. I just saw all
these dispirited animals lined up along Central Park South and
read the news coverage of them getting hit by cars. The whole
thing made me uncomfortable and then I saw protesters one day
holding up signs and educating the public about the issue.
Something went off in my head telling me I want to look into
this further and maybe use this as a first stab for a
documentary.

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And you initially planned to just make a short piece for
YouTube?

I didn't have a background in filmmaking, but I was
interested in documentaries so I went out and bought the video
and audio equipment and said I'm going to start making a
documentary for YouTube. One expert interview led to another
and one accident and abuse witness led to another and before I
knew it I had what could be a three-hour movie, but because
it's such an obscure topic I kept it to 50 minutes, which was
the right length for TV.

I have to admit that before seeing it, I never thought about
many of the issues brought to light in the documentary -- from
how easily startled horses are and the accidents that result to
how horrible city conditions are for them.

Horses are prey animals and "spook" by any number of
stimuli -- potholes, dogs barking, horns. When a horse spooks
in a pasture [and runs off in a panic], nobody gets hurt. But
when a horse spooks with a carriage attached with tourists in
it and runs down 9th Avenue, people can get hurt or killed and
the horses often get hit by cars and killed. The fact that
there is no pasture in NYC where they can graze and roll and
run for even a few minutes a day, they've literally been
stripped of the ability to do anything that comes naturally to
them just so that tourists can get a 15-minute ride through the
lower loop of Central Park or Times Square. If the public saw
the truth they would be outraged, and that's why I want as many
people as possible to be educated -- it's not just a New York
issue. There are horse-drawn carriages operating in city
centers in Chicago, New Orleans, Charleston, Philadelphia,
Boston, and they simply don't belong in the streets with
cars.

Some of the carriage drivers come across like real cretins,
but did any of them seem like good people and actually worship
or love their horses? You do feature one guy who seems amicable
enough.

Interestingly, subsequent to making the movie someone else shot
footage of him and his horse had an open sore, and in order to
get it to move he was whipping the sore. So he's not as kind a
guy as he comes across in the movie. I've only met a
handful of drivers and I've seen a lot of them testify at
City Hall. I'm sure some of them are very nice and care
about their horses, however the point one equine expert after
another made is that the bottom line is there are certain
conditions in NYC that cannot be corrected in a way that would
make the industry humane or safe and the only solution is to
take the lead from Paris, Beijing, and Toronto and take
horse-drawn carriages off the streets altogether.

You end the film with a shot that presents a solution of
sorts: an army of pedicabs riding through Central Park. I've
actually noticed a growing number of cute, young foreign guys
pedaling those around the city nowadays, so they're hotter to
boot.

The horse-drawn carriage operators are nothing to look at,
that's for sure. And they're homophobic. I was walking by
with a Provincetown T-shirt and one went "Faggot, faggot,
faggot!" You can
see it on YouTube

.

Has Mayor Mike Bloomberg seen
Blinders

yet?

I don't know if he's even aware of its existence. I sent a
copy to his daughter, who's a very famous equestrian, and
she hasn't responded to any of the contacts.

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What do you think his reaction might be?

He's commented on the issue publicly -- he says it's
great for tourists, tourists love it. He gives four-word sound
bites. To me, one of the most interesting angles from a gay
perspective is our [out lesbian] city council speaker,
Christine Quinn, is probably the number 1 reason why the bill
to ban horse-drawn carriages is languishing at City Hall. Right
while I was shooting
Blinders

there was this horrible accident on Central Park South where
this horse named Smoothie was spooked by a drum and went
barreling down the street with the carriage attached and
crashed into a tree and died over a 45-minute period. Another
horse saw what happened and also got spooked and hopped on top
of a Mercedes. When that took place this council member, Tony
Avella, who's now running for mayor, introduced a bill that
would ban horse-drawn carriages altogether. [Quinn] is
absolutely blocking this bill, which has so much support in the
city, but she wields so much power and basically dictates how
other council members are gonna vote and punishes them if they
don't vote her way.

I guess she's one of those rare women who doesn't
love horses.

She's really corrupt.

I found an allegation on a website that your film is
PETA-funded propaganda.

Yeah, that comes up if you Google me. That's [from] a carriage
driver. Of course the industry calls my movie propaganda. In
fact, I have no history in animal protection work at all. I
worked for a drug company and was a comedian before this. But
the industry's spokesperson calls me a "notorious
animal extremist" to reporters. It's ridiculous. The
industry says whatever they want because they know they can get
away with it and they have. They say they retire all their
horses when we know they get slaughtered for meat. I hired a
First Amendment and entertainment law firm to vet every clip in
the film and spent a fortune doing it. I didn't even need
to exaggerate, much less lie. The footage speaks volumes.

Alec Baldwin hosted the film's premiere at the New
York Public Library for the Performing Arts last June.
How did he become involved?

I met him at a party. I gave him a DVD and he called me and
said he just watched it and volunteered to host a screening. He
was so nice, so gracious and helpful, and even called Quinn,
who told him there's simply no support for this bill at City
Hall. What she failed to say is, "There's no support
because I'm blocking it."

Do you feel
Blinders

will resonate particularly with LGBT audiences, and if so in
what way?

As gay people, and I don't mean to sound trite, we know how it
feels to be treated poorly. So I would think they too would
feel obligated to speak up. I didn't go into this thinking I
would be an activist, but now that I know about this, I am.