The Ivory Game


It's a sobering thought that these magnificent animals could go extinct in our lifetime.

It’s a sobering thought that these magnificent animals could go extinct in our lifetime.

(2016) Advocacy Documentary (Netflix) Craig Millar, Richard Leakey, Andrea Crosta, Prince William, Richard Bonham, Hongxiang Huang, Elisifa Ngowi, Ian Williamson, Ian Craig, Uhuru Kenyatta, Robert F. Godec, Iain Douglas Hamilton, Winnie Kiru, Otir Drori, Georgina Kamanga. Directed by Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson

 

The magnificent elephant is an iconic sight on the African plains, majestically walking through the savannas. One cannot think of Africa without thinking about these beasts, but these creatures are in danger of disappearing from the face of the earth.

That is because of their tusks. The ivory from them can fetch exorbitant prices in China (where most of the ivory goes to) and so poachers are attacking elephants with a will, killing one every fifteen minutes on the average. If that goes unchanged, there will be no African elephants in the wild within 15 years and those remaining in zoos will die off not long thereafter. For most of you reading this, that means the African elephant will be extinct in your lifetime.

There are those who are fighting for the elephants. Craig Millar, head of security for the Big Life Foundation (dedicated to the protection of elephants from poachers), patrols areas of Kenya trying to protect the herds from poachers. He talks to farmers who are dismayed that the elephants wander into their farms and eat their crops – a problem when you consider that food is scarce in that part of Africa. They see elephants as pests and aren’t inclined to report poachers, which Millar can sympathize with. His solution is to build large electrified fences to keep the pachyderms out but those are expensive and most of the farmers can’t afford them.

Investigative journalist Hongxiang Huang is ashamed that his country is responsible for gobbling up the ivory. The market is heavily regulated but dealers have no problem bringing in illegal ivory and corruption is rampant in the enforcement of regulations. Huang’s hidden camera interviews show the brazenness of the dealers and his reports helped stir the Chinese government out of lethargy.

Government investigator Elisifa Ngowi has been chasing one of the biggest poachers in Namibia, a man who goes by the name of Shetai which translates to “devil.” His gang has been responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 elephants by themselves and not a few humans as well. A lot of good citizens who deplore the slaughter of the elephants are far too frightened of Shetai to say anything, but Ngowi is doggedly and determinedly pursuing the criminal.

Georgina Kamanga is the head of intelligence of the National Parks and Wildlife Service in Zambia. She is tough as nails, but the sight of elephants, freshly decapitated, is enough to move her to tears. “I’m taking the whole thing now very personal,” she says in a voice that betrays her emotion. Finally there’s Andrea Crosta, the founder and lead investigator for the website WildLeaks, which looks into animal rights issues. He sends undercover investigators to document corruption in the ivory trade in China – and is horrified when one of them is discovered.

The filmmakers depict all these stories in the vein of a thriller, and in some ways I suppose it is. There are bad guys, victims and crimes being committed. Certainly the extinction of a species like the African elephant is fodder for that kind of genre, particularly when the poachers are hell-bent on exterminating the entire species since it will drive the price up of ivory the fewer of them there actually are. When they are all gone, the price for African ivory will be sky high.

That works well along with the thriller-like musical score, but the filmmakers bounce around from story to story without any sense of flow. If this were a scripted thriller, I’d likely have marked it down a great deal but it gets a bit of a pass due to the documentary nature of the film, and the African vistas are beautifully shot as are the more urban jungles in China, London and African cities.

Elephants are incredible creatures who are fiercely protective of their families (the shots of baby elephants cavorting are among the most priceless in the film) and who mourn their dead with silent grief. Like humans, they bury their dead and can instinctively tell when they are in the presence of a graveyard, even if none of their herd are buried in it.

Produced by actor/environmental activist Leonardo di Caprio and former Microsoft executive Paul Allen (among others), the documentary is an important one and like most advocacy documentaries give viewers opportunities to become involved, either through financial contributions or by getting involved directly. If you don’t have Netflix or don’t wish to view the film but would like to help, you can go to the film’s website by clicking on the picture above.

Some of this movie is hard to look at. I’m not an elephant junkie by any means, but these are amazing creatures who don’t deserve to be wiped off the planet and it is man’s greed and man’s indifference that is doing it. Spin it however you want to, this is a crime pure and simple and if a film can spur people to action as Blackfish and The Cove did, then perhaps this film can do something similar. God knows the elephants need someone in their corner.

REASONS TO GO: The elephants in the wild make compelling visual subjects and the baby elephants are as cute as the dickens. The subject is a vitally important one.
REASONS TO STAY: The documentary jumps from subject to subject in a seemingly haphazard fashion at times.
FAMILY VALUES:  There are some disturbing images of dead elephants as well as adult themes and occasional bouts of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Following China’s ban on importing ivory, this film became an official selection of the Beijing International Film Festival.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/18/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Last Lions
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Lion

Pick of the Litter – November 2016


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

(Warner Brothers) Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller, Zoë Kravitz, Colin Farrell. One of the most anticipated films of the year is here as we return to the Wizarding World created by J.K. Rowling – with a script by Rowling herself! Set in the 1920s, it involves Newt Scamander, a studier of magical creatures, is returning after a world tour seeking out rare and amazing creatures when he stops in New York City. There, his suitcase – carrying many of the beasties – is accidentally opened, releasing them into the Big Apple. Now, he must retrieve the creatures during a crisis in the American magical community and stay clear of the Muggles (in America called No-Mag) before finding a way home. David Yates, director of the last three Harry Potter films, is aboard. Incidentally, Rowling recently announced that the three-movie series would now be expanded to five. November 18

INDEPENDENT PICKS

The Ivory Game

The Ivory Game

(Netflix) Kief Davidson, Richard Ladkani. The largest mammal on Earth is being hunted into extinction. Poachers in Africa are killing the African elephant at a terrifying rate, taking their tusks for ivory and selling it to willing buyers in China. Animal activists go undercover to stop the ivory trade and save an entire species from the extinction that actually benefits the poachers in that it drives the price of their merchandise up the less elephants that remain. Leonardo di Caprio is the producer of this important documentary. November 4

Elle

Elle

(Sony Classics) Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling. A successful businesswoman, owner of a videogame development company, is sexually assaulted in her own home. When the perpetrator gets away without revealing anything about his identity, she is understandably upset. Determined not to let the criminal change her life, she determines to figure out who he is. However, she enters a game of cat and mouse in which the stakes are life and death. Renowned director Paul Verhoeven is behind the camera for this one. November 11

Notes on Blindness

Notes on Blindness

(Bond/360) Dan Skinner, Simone Kirby, Eileen Davies, Miranda Beinart-Smith. In the summer of 1983 shortly before the birth of his first son, writer/theologian John Hull lost his sight. Trying to make sense of the way his life has been irrevocably changed, Hull recorded an audio diary of his experiences and insights. Those audio cassettes with the voices of Hull and his wife Miranda are used as voiceovers for this amazing film which gives the sighted the closest thing to imagining what it’s like to be blind without actually losing their sight. November 16

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

(Roadside Attractions) Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler. Kenneth Lonergan, a writer/director of some renown, may have produced the movie he will be remembered for here. Affleck plays a janitor who has been estranged from his family; when his brother passes away suddenly, he is shocked to find out that his brother named him guardian of his only son in his will. At first he doesn’t want the responsibility of raising his nephew when he can barely take care of himself, but as time goes by he discovers that raising a man can be much more rewarding than he ever knew. November 18

Officer Downe

Officer Downe

(Magnet) Kim Coates, Alison Lohman, Lindsay Pulsipher, Mark Neveldine. In a city ruled by larger-than-life crime bosses, a superhero is needed to take them down. Well, this city doesn’t have one but it does have Officer Downe, a rough-and-tumble cop who won’t let a little thing like death get in the way of serving justice. This is based on the graphic novel of the same name and is produced by the same people who brought you Crank. November 18

Lion

Lion

(Weinstein) Dev Patel, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Nicole Kidman. In this amazing but true story, a little boy accidentally gets on a train and ends up in Calcutta, thousands of miles from home. Lost in the streets of a brutal city, he is adopted by a kind-hearted Australian couple. Years later, now a young man, he longs to find the family he once knew that only exist now as scraps of memories he can barely identify. Despite having very little to go on and a vast country to search, he makes the journey to find himself – and the other family that he once had. November 25

Mifune: The Last Samurai

Mifune: The Last Samurai

(Strand) Toshiro Mifune, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Keanu Reeves. The Japanese icon Toshiro Mifune redefined what screen heroism was. Legendary director Akira Kurosawa routinely cast him in roles that required the attributes of a samurai warrior and Mifune responded. Without this team, American movies would never have been the same and yet outside of cinema buffs his name is little known in the States. This documentary with an all-star line-up of commentators seeks to rectify that injustice. November 25