SALT LAKE CITY — Animal rights activists have decided the Utah State Fair isn't the place to screen a graphic documentary depicting cruelty in slaughterhouses, a change in the way the group approached other fairs across the nation.
Members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have set up booths at several state fairs this year, and their attempts to show the video "Glass Walls," narrated by Paul McCartney, led to temporary expulsion from the Iowa State Fair and a lawsuit against the Kansas State Fair.
Objections in Iowa stemmed from complaints of vulgar language in the film. The group was allowed to return and continue screening the movie, language and all, if they agreed to keep the subtitles off.
PETA challenged the Kansas State Fair's stipulation that the film be kept behind a screen, visible only to those who elected to watch. A U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday denied appeals from PETA and the American Civil Liberties Union that the fair's restrictions violated free speech.
PETA supporter Matt Bruce said the organization decided to nix plans for showing the film in order to better engage the Utah audience in conversation. Bruce is a Salt Lake native who moved to Los Angeles in order to work with PETA. He has been manning the Utah State Fair booth since gates opened Thursday.
"We were planning on showing the video at all the fairs, but we decided to change things up a bit and focus on one-on-one conversations here," he said.
Bruce was with the group at the Iowa State Fair. He said that while the two approaches are different, they both are meant to initiate conversations about cruelty to animals.
The group accepted the terms laid out by Utah State Fair officials, which stipulated that the graphic film not be shown. PETA didn't challenge the contract, and instead has free DVDs at its booth to distribute to any fairgoers who would like to watch it at home.
"PETA has been coming to Utah for years," Bruce said. "We always found that actually reaching out to people and talking to them was a much more effective way than being in their face."
Fair executive director Clark Caras said he welcomed PETA's decision not to screen the film and to accept the fair's contract. Caras said there have been no conflicts between PETA and the fair.
Caras, who counts raising animals for the 4H and FFA programs as a defining part of his youth, said agriculture will always be part of the Utah State Fair.
"It's about food and fun and agriculture," he said. "You can't have a fair without having agriculture."
More than 550 youth in 4H and FFA will bring market lambs, goats, hogs and steers to the fair this year. Animals are shown by the participants and later auctioned in bidding at prices elevated to provide money for the youth participating in the programs.
PETA opposes all animal consumption, Bruce said, including animals raised on family farms.
"We're asking people to think about animals the next time they eat, and to make the compassionate choice to leave them off their plate," he said.
Mark and Susan Watson of Roy said they attend the Utah State Fair every year. The couple took a moment to visit with Bruce at the PETA booth and accepted a DVD.
Susan Watson said she was surprised at PETA's presence at the fair, but didn't object. She said she was glad the film wasn't being played in public.
"I don't think they should show it at the state fair with the kids, but I think it's good they want to show both sides," she said.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company