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Why the Long Face?

Why the Long Face?


Blinders , a documentary by gay stand-up comedian Donny Moss, explores the dark side of Central Park's iconic horse and carriage businesses.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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Lawrence Ferber