Trophy is an unflinching exploration of conservation and man’s place in it. Seen through the prism of multiple viewpoints, it brings together the complicated picture of those who wish to save animals through any means. Directed by Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, the film shifts between the multiple perspectives of hunters, conservationists, academics and gamekeepers as they try to save, sell or shoot the many endangered animals in Africa.
The film opens with an introduction to trophy hunting in America, when hunter Philip Glass teaches his son how to shoot a deer and watches with pride as it happens. Animal lovers should bring a box of tissues. To the Directors’ credit the film doesn’t explicitly denounce Philip’s love of hunting, as he speaks freely about the joy it brings him and the love he feels for an animal in the moment after it dies. It’s a surreal viewpoint for the conservationists trying to protect these animals, but in a twisted way they depend on hunters to pay for their kills, so they can continue to protect the ones that survive. It’s another form of conservation, whether you agree with it or not.
In another attempt to save the Rhino, we follow John Hume, a man who has spent his life savings buying land to become the world’s largest private rhino breeder. As founder/owner of Buffalo Dream Ranch, he aims to protect and hopefully increase their number. To fund this, John plans to sell the horns of his Rhino’s after they’ve been humanely cut off, but a 2009 moratorium on rhino horn trade obstructs him and leads to a massive spike in poaching. John’s opinion of “if you are anti-trade then you are pro-poaching”, doesn’t gel well with the conservationist Will Travers (Born Free Foundation) who doesn’t want any trade, but have no alternative to saving Rhino’s.
As much as the film is about the humans and their role in preserving these animals, it is the wild beauty and majesty of these creatures that takes centre stage. The love for these animals is the only common view all the people in the documentary share, though they all come from different backgrounds. The Global clashes with Local – Philip has travelled far and paid highly to kill an elephant, but for the locals an elephant is just dinner.
The most unsettling part of the documentary isn’t the gratuitous scenes of animals dying, or the hopelessness of the conservation movement. It’s the complexity of the movement and the lack of any clear right answer. Clusiau and Schwarz paint a rich tapestry that should be watched, even if it is uncomfortable.
Trophy is set for release in theatres and digital platforms on the 17th November 2017.