Hot off its critical success at SXSW and Sundance, Director Saul Schwarz and Co-Director Christina Clusiau explore some very uncomfortable topics with no clear answers in visually-breathtaking Documentary, TROPHY. There are no heroes to cheer for, but at once it is impossible not to feel something through it all.
The Film delves into the sport of Trophy Hunting from the eyes of a hunter named Philip Glass in pursuit of the sport’s Big 5: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros, to a South African rhinoceros rancher named John Hume. Hume invests over $50 million of his own money into preventing the extinction of these animals by farming them and selling their horns domestically to combat the poaching and black market sale of them. That is, a rhinoceros is of no value to a poacher without its horns.
Hume goes up against the South African government in an effort to overturn their banning the sale of rhinoceros horns. These stories also intersect with that of Chris Moore, a wildlife conservationist in Zimbabwe whose mission is to combat poaching, giving us insight to how elephants destroying crops and lions killing cattle are ruining the livelihood of locals. These locals as a result to turn to poaching to earn a living with their options limited. It is this level of perspective and detail that is both eye-opening and empathetic.
Unlike other stories, there is no real protagonist in TROPHY which at once is a testament to its Filmmakers’ commitment to impartiality, though this proves rather frustrating to watch. It makes us incredibly uneasy to see these animals led to their deaths as their killers pose for selfies with these ‘trophies’. It is impossible for us not to be affected by how some of these individuals justify their passion for hunting.
That being said, there is plenty of gray area to be found as the Filmmakers explore with remarkable candidness the emotional attachments their subjects have to their beliefs. Glass truly believes with tears in his eyes he is paying honour to the animal’s spirit by killing a lion and in some way too his late father who introduced him as a child to hunting. Meanwhile Hume, perhaps the most likable of the subjects in the Film, appears to have the best intentions, but also must be questioned about his motives as he too has a large financial stake in his rhinoceroses. Also, how exactly is he preserving wildlife if he is selectively breeding them and farming them?
The Film can be summed up in a line as stated by Moore, “We mustn’t lose humanity for the sake of humanity”. Often we are quick to judge and form an opinion without seeing the full picture, which is exactly what TROPHY sets out to do.
The Orchard release TROPHY as follows:
Friday, September 22nd
Toronto, ON – Carlton Cinema
Ottawa, ON – Mayfair Theatre
and a select engagement for one night at:
Vancouver, BC – Vancity Theatre