Tess Gerritsen with Ian Maccallan, a pigkeeper at Burnhopeside Hall in Durham, England. Credit: Courtesy of Donkey Universe Films

In a new documentary airing on PBS stations across the country a midcoast-based mother-son filmmaking duo has set out to explore the role of the pig throughout human history.

The film, “Magnificent Beast,” began airing on PBS stations across the country earlier this month and will be available to watch for the first time in Maine on Thursday at 10 p.m on Maine Public. Through interviews with scholars, farmers, chefs and pet owners from across the globe and here in Maine, the film dives into the range of pig-human relationships ― from common food source, to cultural taboo, to even household pet.

“Pigs are that one animal that, around the world, people love them or hate them. Everyone has an opinion, good or bad, about pigs,” filmmaker Josh Gerritsen said.

“Magnificent Beast ” is the first documentary film collaboration from Josh Gerritsen, of Lincolnville, and his mother, author Tess Gerritsen, of Camden. The duo released their first film together, “Island Zero,” a horror movie, in 2016.

The idea for “Magnificent Beast” stemmed from a culinary mystery that occurred to Tess Gerritsen while on a trip to Turkey. While there, she wanted to have bacon, but couldn’t find any since the country is predominantly Muslim and the Islamic religion prohibits the consumption of pork.

“It got me thinking, why would any culture ban a nutritious and delicious food? That was a mystery that I wanted to answer just for myself,” Tess Gerritsen said.

She considered writing a book about a variety of culinary taboos, but decided to focus a project solely on pigs, especially since Josh Gerritsen had previously raised the animals.

Exploring the cultural question of eating pork is a central theme throughout the film. A number of experts from across the globe weigh in on the origins of religious prohibitions of pork in Islam and Judaism, including David Freidenreich, a professor of Jewish Studies at Colby College in Waterville.

“I think Freidenreich was really the person who made it very clear to us that food taboos, whether it’s horse meat, or cow meat or anything else, it’s really a reflection of your bonding with a particular culture,” Tess Gerritsen said.

Chefs like Rockland restaurant owner Melissa Kelly of Primo also share their perspectives on why pigs should be viewed and respected as a delicious food source.

But pigs as food, prohibited or not, are only one part of the story.

“Magnificent Beast” also looks into the softer side of pigs, through their relatively newfound roles as household pets, but also as creatures in need of rescue when abandoned as pets or when escaping slaughter.  

Hunters and a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture also shed light on the health and safety threats that feral swine can present in some parts of the U.S.

“I think what surprised me most was the wide variety of pig behaviors,” Tess Gerritsen said. “They are so much like humans. There are really nasty pigs that I wouldn’t want to be near and there are pigs that will just cuddle up in your bed and sleep with you. They’re like humans. There are good ones and bad ones.”

Through the film, Tess and Josh Gerritsen not only hope to shed some light on the cultural reasons why we eat — or don’t eat — the things that we do, but cultivate some newfound respect for the humble pig.

“We really hope that after people watch this film, they get a better sense of the pig, of how intelligent these animals really are and how they can be so loving and maternal, and to respect the pig a little more,” Josh Gerritsen said. “That was such an important motivation for me, that people really understand that there is a slaughter and that there is a sacrifice. And if you can afford it, if you have butchers that are around you that offer meat from small farms, from more sustainable sources, to really try and consider buying from those places.”