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“I never do the killing myself. I don’t like killing,” insists ivory poacher “X” in Jon Kasbe’s visually striking documentary about Kenya’s illegal ivory trade. X is a self-righteous and swaggering young man, with a self-described “sweet tongue and strong brain”, who claims to have killed 16 elephants on his own and at least 40 with a team.
He and his business partner, Lukas, fire poisoned arrows to paralyse the endangered animals before harvesting their tusks for ivory. It’s risky work, and led to his own father’s death – by law, those caught shooting an animal receive a bullet on the spot. “You look like a gangster,” he says to Lukas, whose sunglasses and cigarette are fashioned after Robert De Niro. Kasbe also follows X’s cousin, Asan, once a poacher and now a ranger and family man who knows how hunters think. Later, ivory worth $150m is piled high and burned (a political statement arranged by the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta).
Kasbe makes the most of his extraordinary access by presenting the film vérité style, preferring to immerse the audience in his characters’ lives to better make the case for each of their choices. Of course X’s crimes are despicable, never more so than in one breathless scene in which he and Lukas hit an elephant, which cries out in pain off camera. Yet Kasbe’s gaze remains empathetic, portraying X as an antihero with few better options, contrasting his business mind with Asan’s noble heart. It’s no surprise to hear that it has been months since Asan has been paid.
Drone footage of a lumbering family of elephants is contrasted with Asan’s heavily pregnant wife; Kasbe films Asan’s young son, then shows a blue bow tied around the neck of a gorgeous, orphaned days-old zebra. Kasbe creates a sense of the ecosystem at stake.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: When Lambs Become Lions review – eagle eye on the ivory trade | Documentary films