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Kief Davidson Interview: ‘The Ivory Game’ Co-Director on Elephants, Leonardo DiCaprio and China

The film is currently streaming on Netflix — but not in China.

directors Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson

Directors Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson

Daniel Bergeron

The horrific plight of wild elephants is front and center in “The Ivory Game.” Currently streaming on Netflix, Richard Ladkani and Kief Davidson’s Oscar shortlisted documentary — which has been prominently backed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jane Goodall, among others — offers a ground-level view of the black market trade. Davidson recently sat down at the International Documentary Association film series (video below) to talk about the film’s journey and how he styled it as a thriller.

READ MORE: ‘The Ivory Game’ Trailer: Leonardo DiCaprio-Produced Doc Is a Shocking Look at Elephant Poaching


No, however much he might have liked to, he did not get to pet any elephants: “That happens in Disney movies; it’s not like that in real life,” he said. “We never really got close enough to know them, to really feel like an elephant should be a character, unfortunately.”

Davidson and cinematographer Ladkani, who have been friends for 20 years and previously shot “The Devil’s Miner,” had wanted to collaborate on another film and chased this project after Ladkani read The New York Times article “The Price of Ivory.” After completing the film, they were urgent to have it seen by as many people, as soon as possible — hence the Netflix deal.

“We didn’t wait for the film to go to a film festival to sell it,” said Davidson, “because we felt like, if we did that, it would take longer, and the issue doesn’t have time to take longer; it has to get out as soon as possible.” Thanks to the streaming service, “The Ivory Game” can now be seen in 190 countries.

READ MORE: ‘The Ivory Game’: Jane Goodall Speaks Out About The Urgency Of New Elephant Poaching Documentary

One country where it isn’t officially available is China, which is also where much of the world’s illicit ivory ends up. Still, Davidson is confident it’ll make its way there soon enough: “I’m quite sure — Netflix will sort of hate me saying this — someone will pirate this at some point, and it’ll make its way to Chinatown and, through Chinatown, will make its way to China.”

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