Sides of a Horn


A sight we may not be able to see for very much longer.

(2018) Drama Short (Whitlow Park) Wellie Nzuza, Sheldon Marema, Ayanda Seoka, Dimpho Motloung, Motheo Mope, Petrus Maduna, Mpho Noko, Johnny Kaledi, Emmanuel Castis, Khanyisile Sebolai, Tshepiso Molati, Tonny Sebolai, Keorapetse Matji. Directed by Toby Wosskow

 

The African rhinoceros is one of the oldest species still extant on the planet, around 50 million years or so. If current estimates hold, the animal will be extinct in the wild within ten years. Much of that is due to a belief in certain Asian nations that the powdered rhino horn brings virility in a male. We are all about our dicks, after all. For that there’s a good chance that we will see them exist only in zoos and wildlife parks in our lifetimes.

This short is about Dumi (Nzuza) who works as a ranger for a wildlife protection agency in South Africa. He has come home to his village to visit his sister who is dying of a wasting disease. Her husband Sello (Marema) works as a wood cutter and doesn’t make enough to afford to take his wife to a doctor. Dumi offers to help out when he gets paid next week but that could be too late for the dying woman. Sello will do anything to protect his family; Dumi will do anything to protect his land. The two are headed on a collision course and don’t even know it.

The short 17-minute film has a powerful story that shows a surprisingly balanced view of a thorny problem that envelops modern Africa. On the one hand, they are fighting for their land and their heritage, trying to protect the wildlife which is native and part of a delicately balanced ecology. On the other hand, they are fighting terrible poverty in which even the most basic services are out of reach for a significant percentage of the population. Exacerbating everything is simple human greed – powdered rhino horn fetches lavish prices in Asia.

The cinematography by Nico Aguilar is beyond breathtaking. Filming was done in villages and game preserves where the rhino poaching issue is an everyday affair. As gripping as the story is, however, the pacing felt a little rushed, as if Wosskow were in a hurry to get this out in the world. I can’t say as I blame him if that is the case; every minute counts for a species that time is literally ticking down on.

The film was executive produced by Sir Richard Branson and is available free of charge in various places around the net a few of which are listed below in addition to the film’s website which can be reached by clicking on the picture above. In many ways, the rhino is almost incidental to the story onscreen which is a very human one although it remains distinctly at the center of the tale. When a wild rhino makes its appearance in the film, you can’t help but admire the magnificence of a creature which at the moment desperately needs our help to survive.

REASONS TO SEE: The cinematography is beautiful. Approaches the issues of poaching in South Africa from the points of view of both the conservationist and the poacher. The story is an important one and the dramatic tension is high.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story feels a bit rushed.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A poacher can get paid the equivalent of US $3,000 for a single rhino horn, enough to support his family for a full year.
BEYOND THE THEATER: African Wildlife Foundation, Vimeo, Virgin, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/25/19: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Forgotten Kingdom
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Hot Doug’s: The Movie

Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale


Naledi goes walkies.

(2016) Nature Documentary (Netflix) Mike Chase, Wellington Jana, Brett Mitchell, Boago Poloko, Robert O’Brien. Directed by Ben Bowie and Geoff Luck

 

The plight of the African elephant is largely well-known now; poachers kill the majestic creatures at a terrifying rate of 96-100 every day and all for their tusks which are highly prized particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

Naledi was born into this situation. We witness her first moments of life – her birth was captured on film – and that footage is absolutely incredible. It’s definitely one of the highlights of the movie. From there, Naledi’s life isn’t easy. Her mother dies of disease when she’s only a month old and the men of the elephant preserve camp in Botswana where she was born have to fight to keep the baby alive. It’s no easy matter.

Mike Chase, one of the camp’s directors, is an outspoken advocate for the elephants and regularly addresses governments and NGOs to discuss the elephants and what can be done to save them. Much of the film in fact focuses on the Great African Census, an attempt to get an idea of how many elephants are left in the wild and sadly the numbers are a lot worse than feared. Preserves where once hundreds and thousands of elephants lived have fewer than a dozen still in the wild. Poachers, who are paid princely sums of money (for that part of the world) for the tusks, have to get bolder as their prey get fewer. Chase explains that those who employ the poachers – the distributors of ivory – actually want the elephants to go extinct. When the elephants are gone after all their ivory will skyrocket in price. I don’t think I’ve heard a greater indictment of the sickness of greed and the excesses of capitalism in my life.

That the current situation involving African elephants is absolutely critical is a given. The question that faces a film reviewer here is do they present the information in a way that will move people to action or at least sympathy and the answer is clearly yes. However, one must also look at the title of the film and perhaps take a step back.

The title seems to imply that the story here is Naledi and we do get to see a lot of her. She’s one of the cutest animal characters that you’ll ever see and she has a ton of personality. DisneyNature has made their mark anthropomorphizing animals and telling stories using the footage they gather; that’s not necessary here. The footage by itself tells the story and the animal herself is enthralling without assigning voiceover characteristics to her. Points to the filmmakers for that.

But if you think you’re getting a cute Disney-esque story about a baby elephant, that’s only about half the film. Most of it is an environmental treatise which, as previously stated, does present the plight of the species eloquently but in all honesty there are plenty of other films that have done that as well including Netflix own The Ivory Game. Quite frankly, if I had to choose between the two films to educate an audience about what’s going on with African elephants, I would choose The Ivory Game over Naledi. Perhaps the filmmakers were hoping to bring in a family demographic with the promise of cute baby elephants but I’m not so sure this is entirely appropriate for family audiences, particularly those with sensitive sorts in it. Naledi’s story is not an easy one to watch all the time.

Still, one can’t complain about a film for bringing an important subject to the table, even if they are essentially repeating things that have already been said. It also should be said that the filmmakers turn their attention to the Great Elephant Census which is helping activists focus efforts on where it is needed the most, something that wasn’t mentioned in The Ivory Game that I can recall. Chase is heavily involved in that project. The movie is a little rough for the wee ones but those who care about elephants should see it, even if the filmmakers are preaching to the choir.

The movie had a theatrical debut at the Seattle International Film Festival late last year and but really only played a few festivals before heading to Netflix. The streaming giant hasn’t really publicized the movie much if at all and there are few reviews of it out there. The movie is certainly flawed but it deserves better, even if it is false advertising to a certain extent. At the very least it makes a fine companion piece to The Ivory Game and the early scenes of Naledi are worth seeing all by themselves. One must also consider the grim option that if things continue to go the way they’re going, the only place to see these magnificent animals will be on films like this – after the last one is gone.

REASONS TO GO: Naledi has an engaging and adorable personality. As you might expect, the cinematography is wonderful.
REASONS TO STAY: The dual story between Naledi and the conservation efforts doesn’t always mesh well.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes as well as some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Great Elephant Census is largely funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Born in China
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Exception