When filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau first set out to make their stunning documentary “Trophy,” about the complex industry of big-game hunting and conservation in Africa and the U.S., they thought it would be an exposé.
“We really wanted to shame the industry,” Clusiau said in a Q&A after a screening of the film at the International Documentary Association’s annual documentary screening series. “And then we realized it’s not so black and white.”
When they met South African rhino farmer John Hume, who argues that the legal trade of rhino horn will prevent poaching and keep the species alive, Zimbabwean anti-poaching wildlife officer Chris Moore, who works to keep communities safe from predators in part by working with big game hunters, and many others featured in the film, their opinion changed.
Said Schwarz, “In the long run we found that in this subject we all actually want to get to the same place. I truly believe everybody wants to see these animals in 10, 20, or 100 years. We just disagree how to get there. I think it’s particularly worth the dialogue, because in the end we have the same shared goal.”
Part of the problem, Hume said at the Q&A, is that Africa is a complex, multifaceted continent that Westerners don’t fully understand.
“You cannot portray Africa in a few hours of movie,” he said, adding later, “The problem with America and the Western civilization is that they only see the one side of the story. They do not see the raw Africa, the subject-to-bribing, subject-to-corruption Africa. Quite frankly, they don’t understand it. And you can’t blame them because they grew up different to Africa.”
It’s easy to say that all trophy hunting should be illegal, but in plenty of places in Africa, animals raised to be hunted by high-rolling foreigners have managed to slow their steady decline into extinction.
“From afar, it didn’t make sense. But when you think about it, a lot of these things are not that complicated,” Schwarz pointed out. “We sit and we say, ‘Let’s save a majestic lion.’ But if we had a lion running around L.A. we would be scared for our children just like Chris’s people [are].”
He continued, “I think the West…it intends well. We mean well. We want to help, but we can’t help without understanding the local perspective and if we want people to care about animals and protect them, whether in these worlds or others, we have to give them a real incentive. It’s not enough to say, ‘Wow, this is a majestic lion, let’s save it.’ That is simple to me at this point, which it wasn’t when we came into this.”
Animal rights groups argue against the principle of placing monetary value on certain animals for hunting or farming—”if it pays, it stays”—because it leaves out species that don’t draw top dollar, but “Trophy” makes the case for a variety of solutions to keep African animals from extinction.
“There isn’t one answer. Government can’t do it alone. Hunting can’t do it alone. Tourism can’t do it alone,” Schwarz said. “We need all of these forces.”
“Trophy” is out now in New York and Los Angeles.
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.
Watch clips from the Q&A below: