Kathryn Bigelow is an important filmmaker because she refuses to dance around the facts surrounding her films, and because she often brings up important questions that nobody else wants to ask. The storm of controversy surrounding the depictions of torture in 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty” were outsized compared to the intelligent, subdued film that actually spawned the conversation. And yet something about Bigelow’s Oscar-nominated film nonetheless struck a nerve in our national consciousness, one that perhaps needed to be struck. She has a gift for making real-life procedure riveting, and yet it has not softened the laser-like focus of her attention to social issues of mounting importance. Recently, Bigelow collaborated with screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” Guy Ritchie’s upcoming “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”) on a short animated PSA entitled “Last Days” (watch it here), which addresses the unjust and inhumane world of elephant poaching. In an enlightening chat with Michael Moynahan for “Vice Meets,” Bigelow and Burns sat down to discuss the urgency with which they went about the collaboration, the links that elephant poaching has to African terrorist organizations, and how we can do our part.
It’s a deeply saddening statistic, but if current conditions persist, wild elephants could very well be extinct within a decade, if not less. Elephants are almost always killed by poachers because of their tusks, which contain the valuable dentine material ivory. The proceeds from this savage practice have gone to fund what Bigelow says is a five thousand-strong army of Africa-based terrorists. The director talks about how she became obsessed with the issue, so much so that she initially reached out to Burns—himself a vocal advocate of the cause—on potentially working together on what would be a feature film. Given the ticking-clock scenario at hand (Bigelow mentions that on average, an elephant is killed every 15 minutes) Bigelow and Burns decided instead to forego rehearsals, pre-production, and all that other crazy business in favor of a compact animated short that gets its point across bluntly (and often gruesomely). There’s no pussyfooting in the world of Kathryn Bigelow, and “Last Days” wastes no time in making its point. Even if we Americans don’t feel like doing our part—and it’s really as simple as not buying ivory-related products—Bigelow and Burns argue that becoming aware of this mounting travesty is the first step, and an essential one if we are to preserve any of the natural beauty of wild elephants in our lifetime.
On a side note, it’s also worth remembering that Michael Bay—and this is perhaps the only similarity he shares with Bigelow, other than the fact that they’ve both made movies featuring tanks—is also a passionate supporter of saving the elephants, and he’s even said that we may get a live-action movie about that very topic. But for now, we’re lucky to have Bigelow as a spokesperson for such a vital issue. She is a sincere and remarkably articulate proponent of this cause, and one can only hope that her noble, noble message reaches more audiences, and soon.
Please watch, share and check out the website Last Days of Ivory to learn more.