Milked director tells us about her film’s unflinching look at NZ’s dairy industry

Filmmaker Amy Taylor tells us about her NZIFF-selected film Milked, which takes an unflinching look at New Zealand’s dairy industry.

Dr Jane Goodall and filmmaker Keegan Kuhn (Cowspiracy) are some of the many interviewees who chime in on Milked, an exposé documentary about the New Zealand dairy industry. Director Amy Taylor tells us more about the film, which is playing as part of Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival.

FLICKS: Describe your film in EXACTLY eight words.

TAYLOR: Diving deep into dairy in search of truth. (OR… Our nation’s biggest industry is its biggest threat)

When did you first take an interest in the scale and impact of dairy farming here?

In 2018 I made a Loading Docs film featuring Chris (The Cube of Truth) and that’s when we started kicking around the ideas that lead to making Milked. We were both inspired by Cowspiracy and What the Health, so our goal was to make a sort of kiwi-blend of those documentaries, but we soon realised that in Aotearoa that needed to be focused on the dairy industry.

What myths or beliefs do you think our country needs to move past in order to understand the true impact of the dairy industry?

The number one myth is that dairy is needed for human health and our economy. There’s so much destruction and devastation being caused for a product that we DON’T need—something that actually does us and our environment harm and isn’t looking very sustainable economically either.

There’s a common perception that dairy is natural, but there’s nothing natural about industrial dairying. When I drive through the countryside I see the landscape differently now, I imagine all the native forest and wetlands that have disappeared, I see the cows in paddocks without their calves and with udders full of milk, and how they have to walk to a milking shed instead of nurturing their young, many of whom are taken away to be slaughtered at only four days old.

All around the country there are signs of the intensive dairy industry that we’ve come to accept as the status quo—pivot irrigators, fertliser spreaders, and dairy factories burning coal to dehydrate milk to be sent to China and added to processed foods… none of it makes sense to me.

How challenging is it to embark on a film about this topic?

It’s a big subject but we had a clear Kaupapa from the start to guide us—exposing industry propaganda and exploring solutions for the wellbeing and sustainability of Aotearoa.

The research for the film was massive, and editing was challenging, making sure it’s an eye-opening and entertaining story as well as being information rich. With over 100hrs of interviews we had to cut a few people out completely which was really hard to do, but we’re hoping to make some extra content when we can.

Did you ever feel optimistic that true engagement with Fonterra would occur during the filmmaking process?

Yes. To start with, I was sure they would meet with us because they’d already offered for Chris to come and have a chat with them. But after about the third phone call, I realised we were going around in circles with them, getting passed from person to person and getting nowhere.

It was frustrating that none of the industry leaders at Fonterra or Dairy NZ would do an interview, but in the end their refusal to meet with us says everything really—they’re very good at projecting an image, but not so good at being honest.

During production, what was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

Working with a small budget which meant it was just me as a one-person film crew as well as being the producer/director.

For you, what was the most memorable part of this whole experience?

It’s been incredible how much support we’ve had, especially from our Executive Producers Keegan Kuhn, Suzy Amis Cameron, and Peter Eastwood (from the Tanglewood Foundation). There have been so many people who have helped along the way, and who are helping us get this message out now, and that’s been a highlight for me.

What was the last great film you saw?

Joker—I watched it a couple of weeks ago and was completely blown away by Joaquin Phoenix, couldn’t get his character out of my head for days. I’m a huge fan of him as an activist too—if you haven’t seen his Best Actor Oscars speech where he talks about the dairy industry, check it out!