Cockfighting film finds
fans in rural Louisiana

A Hawaii journalist says her
documentary explores cultural roots

SUNSET, La. >> As Stephanie Castillo grew up in Hawaii, she wondered more and more if her grandfather was evil for raising and fighting roosters.

"Because I had heard the humane society and animal-rights activists talk about these people like they were demons, I wondered if my grandfather was one of these demons," she said.

Finding the answers led her to create a documentary, "Cockfighters: The Interviews," which features interviews with breeders and cockfighters from Louisiana, Hawaii, Mississippi and other states.

Castillo, a former reporter at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, showed her eight-hour movie here recently at the Sunset Recreation Club's Cajun Classic cockfight derby.

The movie includes a tour of the Sunset club and brief scenes of cockfights from Puerto Rico and the Philippines. She was not allowed to film fights in the continental United States.

"I didn't want to focus on the cockfights because the breeders were telling me that's such a small part," she said. "They do talk about them, but they talk more about the bloodlines, the pedigree breeds, the history, their interest in what they do and why they do it."

She said she now believes her grandfather was taking part in a rich Filipino cultural tradition. Cockfighting is among that country's most popular sports, with matches held nearly every day.

"They see themselves as part of a heritage and a cultural tradition that goes back a long time," she said.

One breeder interviewed is Jim Demourelle, of Ville Platte, La., who has been breeding and raising game fowl for 45 years. He said the documentary is the first time the cockfighters' side has been presented without being colored by the views of animal-rights activists.

Animal-rights advocates have long held that cockfighting is a brutal pastime. They reject cockfighters' argument that roosters are well treated and fight instinctively.

Jeff Dorson, of the Humane Society of Louisiana, said gambling is most people's main motive for being involved in cockfighting.

"This is all about betting, all about bragging rights," he said. "If it happens to inflict injuries on animals, they don't seem to care. This is simply an enterprise that deals with betting."

Cockfighting is illegal in all states except Louisiana and New Mexico. Oklahomans voted to ban cockfighting in 2002, but injunctions and temporary restraining orders by breeders have suspended enforcement of the law in about 30 of the state's 77 counties.

Cockfighters traditionally shy away from public attention, and Castillo said many refused to talk to her.

"They decided as a group of people to not call attention to themselves because they thought that was going to be the best way to do what they love to do without getting the wrath of the animal-rights people on them," Castillo said. "They believe that all press is bad press."


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