Crocodile Tears?: Clusiau and Schwarz Take Aim at Hunters & Conservationists
The ethical debate and moral implications on the industry that is trophy hunting have grown in the past decade, but have become a thornier issue when proud hunter mount their precious exploits on more than just fireplace mantels. Docus on trophy hunting and poaching tend to advocate or favor one particular side, but co-director Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz who moves from the duel sides of the border conflict with Narco Cultura (2013) to tackle this potent and complex issue through a dramatically infused emotionally charged journey.
Exploring the perspectives of the hunters and the conservationists, its as if the filmmakers were imitating a rising tide, Trophy ebbs and flows with refined razor-sharp craft and a thorough understanding of the subject matter to explore the expansive multifaceted world of animals as commodities.
Beginning with a father instructing his son on how to take down a large buck in the U.S., we then take flight primarily towards Africa, where rich trophy hunters pay small fortunes to hunt some of the rarest animals on earth. The day-to-day documentation and personal philosophies espoused through interviews of anti-poaching squads, big game breeders, touristing hunters, local populations and wildlife conservationists never paint any clearly defined parameters from which conclusions should be drawn.
Embedding statistical evidence and environmental impact of the industry with the emotional toll and excitement that propel each of the multiple perspectives, whereas diehard conservationists advocate to save every endangered rhino at risk for poaching, a breeder dissects his business of raising these animals to be trophies and the emotional attachments they form with the very same game. Though ethical ramifications always skirt the background of each testimony, the necessities in order to save these species from extinction without egregious costs to human life and livelihoods remains the central issue throughout.
Each perspective is given ample screen time to divulge their facts and fancies that drive their convictions, never once does the docu sacrifice impartiality. Richard Prevatt’s audio editing provides a seamless concatenation; emphasizing the echoes in gunshots, the death rattles of rhinos and elephants, the weeping of many of those interviewed to provide the full experience of these hunts. His keen ear for composing continuous diegetic sound adds a brutal and striking reality.
Each sequence is organized in such a way that cinematography by Clusiau and Schwarz is consistently stunning and effective, exploring angles unconventional and some not possible before the recent advents of drone cameras. All of this is folded into a concise and daring package by the swaying and ruminating score by the Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans duo, alongside of Erick Lee and Jeremy Turner.
It is difficult to determine if Clusiau and Schwarz have delivered the kind of doc that’ll resonate or have an impact on the big game hunts and its associated industry. Extraordinary numbers of animals killed by illegal poaching every year occur in tandem with harsh restrictions placed on the cultivation of these animals.
With many sides vying for the moral high ground, the film posits that a consensus on this topic must be reached before the impending extinction of each of these species, which in turn constantly keeps the tone of the docu mixed and ponderous. A compelling film illuminating a conflict requiring considerable discussion, Trophy could possibly be the most encompassing document made of this debate thus far.
★★★★ / ☆☆☆☆☆