Zoo: Provocative Docu

A provocative, but flawed inquiry into the mysteries of human desire, “Zoo” is the first non-fiction feature from the gifted indie filmmaker Robinson Devor, whose previous credits, Woman Chaser and Police Beat, were acclaimed for their arresting imagery and inventive, idiosyncratic characters. In these respects “Zoo” falls right into Devon’s growing oeuvre.

A timely story, torn from the headlines, “Zoo” is about a seemingly average man whose secret sexual life led to his shocking death. Shot in lush 16mm, in the idyllic Pacific Northwest, the film is a stylized tapestry that interweaves audio commentary from sources unwilling to be photographed, reenactments of actual events featuring professional performers alongside subjects who agreed to play themselves, and footage of the real locations, where the incident occurred. Blurring the lines between docu and drama, Devor tells a story that’ as bold and challenging as the actual event itself.

The Seattle-based director found the basis for “Zoo” only miles way from his home in Enumclaw, Washington. In July of 2005, a 45 year-old Boeing executive named Kenneth Pinyan was anonymously delivered to the hospital emergency room with a perforated colon. When he later died from massive internal bleeding, the investigation led police to a nearby farm where they discovered a bucket full of videotapes, including several showing Pinyan having sex with an Arabian stallion.

This bizarre act turned out to be a regular practice of Pinyan, who was also a member of a group that gathered frequently to perform and record similar acts. While many of the members were identified, (including those who belatedly brought Pinyan to the hospital), no charges were filed because bestiality wasnt illegal in Washington at the time.

This local scandal soon became national news, with the media uncovering every aspect of Pinyans life, even though Pinyans name was not mentioned out of deference to his ex-wife and son. Instead, he was referred to as Mr. Hands, the online moniker Pinyan used when posting videos of himself having sex with stallions.

The extremely explicit tapes spread over the Internet after his death, exposing a previously hidden world. Ironically, it was the Internet that united Pinyans secret band of zoophiles, men who have an erotic attraction to animals and who call themselves zoos. Initial shock gave way to curiosity, and the Enumclaw horse sex incident, as it came to be known, became the subject of dark humor in print, on the airwaves, and especially online, where the footage was virally shared, as if it were a celeb sex tape.

Predictably, moralists expressed outrage, animal rights activists conveyed concern, but sniggering humor proliferated; the horse sex case became a pornographic joke. What was overlooked was that Pinyan, the notorious Mr. Hands, was beyond embarrassment or shame; he was dead.

To his credit, Devor decided to take the opposite tack, and his docu is not sensationalistic or graphicconsidering its inflammatory footage. Acknowledging that zoophilia is the last taboo, on the boundary of something comprehensible, Devor tries to enter into this bizarre world, but “Zoo” somehow comes across as superficial, never fully illuminating the persona involved, their psychology, and sub-culture.

The docu is intriguing up to a point based on the narrative mode, a collaboration of Devor with his writing partner, Charles Mudede, a cultural critic for the Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger (who also co-wrote Police Beat). Since zoophilia represents a break with reality, the filmmakers argued, their aesthetic approach should also represent a similar break with realism, but this results in a mysteriously aesthetic and even beautiful imagery that often negates the more serious and critical goal.