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Trophy 2017

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Passion River Films, 154 Mt. Bethel Rd., Warren, NJ 07059; 732-321-0711
Produced by Lauren Haber and Julia Nottingham for CNN Films
Directed by Shaul Schwarz
DVD, color, 88 min.

College - General Adult
Animal Welfare, Conservation, Extinction

Date Entered: 03/14/2018

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

This is a balanced treatment of the conservation of endangered species, particularly of large trophy animals native to Africa. There is a very fine line between maintaining sustainable populations of the “big five” trophy animals (lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo, and rhinoceros) and their imminent extinction from habitat reduction, hunting and poaching. The filmmakers consider every aspect; economic, commercial, ethical, spiritual, and even include a taxidermist’s point of view, that of making the animal available even after the species goes extinct. This broad treatment of the value of the “big five” animals enables consideration of the impact these species have in their home environments and the impact of their trophy remains and products worldwide. Trophy hunting is a big industry that actually supports conservation in Africa through licensing and fees for hunting and harvesting the “big five.” In many cases, preserving the individual animal is not protecting the species.

Cinematographers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau take the viewer into the blind in Texas, on the hunt for elephant and lion in Africa, and onto a rhino farm in South Africa to observe the harvesting of rhino horns and the harrowing aftermath of poaching … blood, mutilation and an orphaned baby rhino. They also observe the Safari Club International Convention in Las Vegas, where they point out the enormous commercial support for trophy hunting, and the amounts bid to win an African trophy safari. Visits to farmers in lion country clearly depict the dangers of having family livestock. Efforts to thwart poaching include helicopter patrols of the rhino farm and nighttime raids on villagers’ huts in lion country. The courts consider a lawsuit to lift the moratorium on the sale of rhino horns in South Africa. An American hunter contemplates his options should he not be allowed to import his trophy lion into the U.S. These are often very emotional scenes, not only the thrill and excitement of a stalking hunt, but also the terror of nighttime armed confrontation and the raw heartbreak of losing an animal to a poacher or hunter. Yes, a grown man tearful at taking the trophy lion long sought, another crying at the memory of a prized Cape bull turned out for shooting following many productive years at stud.

Trophy is highly recommended. Occasionally, as mentioned in the film, the death of a single animal like Cecil the lion will catch the public’s attention and precipitate outrage, demonstrations and calls for bans on trophy hunting. Though the filmmakers hoped to make an exposé of the trophy hunting industry, they found much more nuanced relationships among trophy hunters, game country villagers, poacher enforcement and “big five” conservation than they expected. The film is raw. It is visceral. Language is raw, emotional and sometimes quite profane. This is a film that may change viewers’ minds about what they know and feel about hunting and its impact on endangered species. It also is a film for mature audiences.