The fur has been flying ahead of tomorrow's Toronto Film Festival screening of a controversial documentary about a sick cat-killing incident.
Festival programmers have received death threats, talk radio has been bristling with outrage and animal-rights activists have vowed to protest the premiere of the shocking film, which one local columnist called a "cat snuff film."
"Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat," by Canadian filmmaker Zev Asher (search), looks at an infamous 2001 animal-cruelty case in which three young Toronto men, led by art student Jesse Power, videotaped themselves torturing, skinning and killing a stray cat.
The men insisted their project was art, but they were arrested, tried and sentenced to limited prison terms after a roommate found the mutilated cat corpse in a beer fridge.
The furor this caused three years ago has been re-ignited by Asher's film, which critics condemn for giving a public platform to the cat killers.
Last week, an anonymous caller rang festival programmer Sean Farnel at his home and threatened to "skin him alive" and "shove knives in his eyes."
"Casuistry," made on a budget of just $400, doesn't show footage of the sickening death of the black-and-white stray, posthumously called Kensington.
But a transcript from the court case — outlining in excruciating detail every minute of the cat-killing tape — scrolls across the screen throughout the film, which also includes interviews with the cat-killers, the cop who arrested them and livid animal-rights activists.
"In some ways, I think it's even more disturbing because you have to use your imagination," Asher told The Post. "It's very hard to read, and I suspect a lot of people won't be able to watch it."
Pat Tohill, a spokesman for the World Society for the Protection of Animals (search), has seen the film and says he was "disgusted" and sorry he saw it.
"The film is difficult to watch," he says. "It's offensive even. After 91 minutes I felt shell-shocked. Numb."
But Tohill says the doc does not condone animal cruelty, and festival co-director Noah Cowan has publicly defended the decision to screen it.
"The film in question is an incisive and responsible look at what's obviously an issue that still burns Toronto up," Cowan says.
So far, Lukas Moodysson's (search) "A Hole in My Heart," a graphic film about amateur pornographers, has elicited more walkouts than any other at the festival, which has a slate jam-packed with edgy fare.
But the as-yet-unscreened "Casuistry" is the talk of the festival.
"I was a bit shocked at all the controversy," says Asher, a self-professed cat lover who currently has no pets because his live-in girlfriend is allergic.
"The film is as unbiased as I could get it. I was disgusted at what these men did, but also curious about what motivated them to turn so ugly and cruel.
"And I wanted to get people to think about how we treat animals, how animals suffer in the preparation of the meat we eat, and to open up the debate on animal cruelty."