Cinema pulls Melbourne Cup film amid ABC racing scandal

A Melbourne cinema has pulled a feature film about the life of the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup due to explosive revelations made during an ABC exposé which have rocked Australia and the horse racing industry.

The film tells the story of Michelle Payne’s journey to be the first woman jockey to win Australia’s most prestigious horse race with the Darren Weir-trained gelding, Prince of Penzance.

The biopic, Ride Like a Girl, was due to be screened at the Thornbury Picture House in Melbourne’s north before the cinema announced the film was being pulled from schedule because it didn’t “want to support [horse-racing] in any way”.

Teresa Palmer as jockey Michelle Payne in the directorial debut of Australian actor Rachel Griffiths. Source: Ride Like a Girl / Transmission Films

Thornbury Picture House owner Gus Berger explained on the cinema’s website that the decision was made after watching the ABC’s 7.30 investigation.

“Growing up I loved going to the country races ... However, over time, the way in which the horses get treated in this environment has started to change the way I look at the sport,” Mr Berger wrote in a statement.

“After watching the extremely disturbing footage on the ABC’s 7.30 this week –– I no longer feel comfortable about screening Rachel Griffiths’ new film, Ride Like a Girl.”

The Melbourne cinema's statement about the decision to pull Ride Like A Girl. Source: Thornbury Picture House

Mr Berger went on to explain the decision had been a very difficult one due to the cinema wanting to support Australian filmmakers, and in particular Australian women directors, but the “brutality” racehorses were filmed being subjected to had left the cinema-owner feeling “sickened”.

In follow-up comments made to The Age, Mr Berger said he had pre-sold more than 50 tickets to two sessions before cancelling the screenings –– a decision which he said his staff also supported.

"It wasn't really about making a statement, it was just following how I felt about screening that film,” he told Nine Newspapers.

"I don’t think that the horse racing industry is bad or evil but I think it definitely needs to look at how its main stars are treated all the way through their lives."

Sam Neill and Teresa Palmer star in the drama biopic, Ride Like a Girl. Source: Ride Like a Girl / Transmission Films

At the time of publication, Thornbury Picture House’s screening times for Ride Like a Girl were still listed on the film’s official website.

However, even before last week’s shocking revelations about the racing industry, Rachel Griffiths’ film had been dogged by criticism.

In January of this year trainer Darren Weir, who is played by Sullivan Stapleton in Ride Like A Girl, had his Warrnambool and Ballarat stables raided and shortly afterwards, he was suspended by Racing Victoria for four years.

Eight months following the raids, on October 9, Weir was charged by Victoria Police with a total of nine animal cruelty offences.

These included three counts of "engaging in the torturing, abusing, overworking and terrifying" of a thoroughbred racehorse and three counts of "causing unreasonable pain or suffering" to a racehorse.

Rachel Griffiths and Michelle Payne arrive during the World Premiere of Ride Like A Girl at Village Jam Factory in Melbourne on September 8, 2019. Source: AAP Image/Scott Barbour

Last month at Ride Like a Girl’s premiere in Melbourne, Griffiths compared protesters who picketed the event to “militant vegans”.

In an interview with ABC Radio Adelaide, Griffiths said the disruption from animal activists was "very minor".

"I did compare it a bit to militant vegans turning up at the botanical gardens on Christmas Day and yelling at people for enjoying their ham," she said.

“I think as good citizens at different times in history we must and need to make our voices heard, but I think one can be strategic about it."

Australian actor Teresa Palmer, who stars in the film alongside Sam Neill, has been an outspoken animal rights activist and vegan, who has previously raised the issue of animal welfare in the racing industry –– most notably in a tweet posted on the day Payne –– who Palmer plays in the film –– won the 2015 Melbourne Cup.

On Tuesday Federal Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk both addressed the brutal treatment of retired racehorses which was the subject of last Thursday’s investigation by the ABC.

Ms Palaszczuk announced an inquiry into oversight of retired racehorses and operation of facilities accepting horses for slaughter.

Senator McKenzie said the vision was horrific, noting animal welfare was a state government responsibility.

"It's really important that we have a discussion as the country's agriculture ministers about how we adopt and practice world's best animal welfare standards," she told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Tuesday.

Under questioning from Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, the agriculture minister said she hadn't watched the full report aired on 7.30.

But Senator McKenzie rejected claims she was not taking the matter seriously, arguing elevating the issue at the ministerial meeting showed it was a priority.

Senator Faruqi implored her to watch the full report.

"I was bawling my eyes out for the full 40 minutes, as were people across Australia," she said.

–– With AAP

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