The documentary opens up with a father and son heading to a hunting blind. They climb inside, and the discuss the strategy for getting a big deer. The son can barely control his excitement when done deer appear in their line of fire. The father gives the son last minute advice, and then the son shoots a deer. The father takes the gun from the son and fires the kill shot. They drop down from the blind and admire the deer they shot. The father poses the son with the buck and takes a couple of pictures. The father says his son is now ready for the big trophies.
We cut to a truck driving in South Africa along a road that has some Rhinos run by it. A woman gets out and shoots a tranquilizer dart at a big rhino. More men get out of the truck, and they start measuring the rhino. Using a portable electric saw, the workers cut off the rhinos two horns. The woman next gives the rhino a shot to wake him up. A proud man by the name of John Hume explains that they will cut off the horns of this rhino again in two years because the poachers would rather kill a rhino with long horns. The rancher says, “If the rhino could talk, he would say that he is happy to sacrifice his horns in order to save my life.” As we see the men saw off another rhino’s horn, the rancher says that he has the solution to saving the rhinos.
We cut to a lamb farm in Texas where a farmer, Philip Glass, talks about his raising lambs for high-end grocery stores and a few select restaurants. He tells the camera that he loves his lambs, even the ones that will wind up as lamp chops on somebodies table. We cut to a ranch in South Africa where workers are struggling to capture a big crocodile. The men finally catch the crock and begin measuring it, preparing it for transport. The camera interviews Christo Gomes from a safari ranch where people can hunt cocks, rhinos, lions, and other big-game animals. They raise some of the animals to be breeding stock, and others are meant to be killed by hunters who pay thousands of dollars for the privilege. The interview is interrupted by the news that a crock has escaped. The men find the crock walking across the bridge and recapture him.
In the year 1900, there were 500,000 rhinos in the world. Today there are less than 30000. Since 1970, the world has lost over 60 percent of all wild animals. Trophy, brought to us by the directing team of Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz, is an even-handed look at the big-game hunting business, its hunters and one man who is trying to save the rhinos. Rancher Philip Glass has a dream to hunt the ‘big five’ (rhino, lion, elephant, leopards, water buffalo) and sees himself as a conservationist. He admires the beauty of the animal that he has just killed. Early in the film, Glass tells a story about how his mother told him not to shoot redbirds. Of course, he did, describing how he held it in his hand, and Glass says, “I realized that I could not have loved that redbird more, even though it was dead.” Christo Gomes believes he is saving the species of lions by breeding them on his ranch, even though some of them will be killed by hunters sometimes paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a chance to kill one. He does have a point as there are more lions in South Africa now than there were at the turn of the century.
Early in the film, we go to Las Vegas to see the largest big-game hunter convention in the world. We see just how huge the big-game industry is with stuffed animals; even elephants adorn the convention floor. It’s very evident that money drives the big-game industry and is aimed at wealthy Americans. While the film shows both sides of the conservation business, it does show a lot of animals being shot, and several times in the movie, we see (and hear) animals in deep distress as they slowly die. A particularly horrific sequence is a hunter is shooting a crocodile in a man-made pond. His first two shots don’t kill the animal, and a worker has to drag the dying animal out of the pond so the hunter can shoot it again. The hunter then picks up his beer and lighting a cigarette to celebrate the kill. There is a heartbreaking scene of a rhino that has been killed and sliced up, rotting under the sun as its baby is running around his mother crying.
Trophy is a complicated and messy business that has no real solution. John Hume, the rhino rancher, has over 1300 rhinos on his ranch and hopes to expand it by 200 each year. Those rhinos come at a price as he has invested millions of dollars in keeping the ranch going. The irony is that he has probably 50 million dollars’ worth of rhino horn but can’t sell it because the South African government has banned it. The ban, making the rhino horn more valuable, has done the opposite of what it was intended to stop; poaching of rhinos has increased threefold. A game warden who looks for poachers is faced with a dilemma when a lion attacks a village, killing all their goats. He has to decide to either hunt down and kill the lion or let it continue to attack the village, with the possibility that next time it will be a person that the lion kills.
The only group that the film does judge is the human race which through just being on the planet is causing wild animals to die at an alarming rate. It’s a maddening and frustrating film to watch because there isn’t any easy answer to the question of how to save these animals. I didn’t know much about big-game hunting, but this film gave me a lot to think about. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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