Trophy

Review by Isobel Raphael

Directed by

Christina Clusiau Shaul Schwarz

Starring

N/A

Anticipation.

Wrongly assumed this was another vegan-friendly, anti-human documentary...

Enjoyment.

A powerful film, but also sometimes very tough to watch.

In Retrospect.

Is it brutal enough to really change viewers’ minds?

The grotesque commerciality of big-game hunting is laid bare in this tough but vital animal welfare doc.

Capitalist greed is manifest in all its glory at the Las Vegas Hunting Convention. It’s a gathering that lives up to the horror of its name as fanatics choose from a ‘menu’ of wildlife and book their kill. The stark contrast between the stats (‘since 1970 the world has lost over 60 per cent of its wild animals’) and the ruthless greed of trophy hunters creates a furious tension necessary for this documentary to take effect.

Trophy captures the South African savannah as a sublime killing ground in this powerful exposé. Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz collaborate as both director and cinematographer, and their film reveals the brutality of the hunting industry, where people can selectively kill wild animals for sport, in exchange for financial contributions to conservation. It is about the strange juxtaposition of acting inhumanely for a supposed greater good.

John Hume is introduced as a rancher who domesticates rhinos and cuts their horns to make them less desirable as prey. The documentary doesn’t tee up good versus evil, but explores a curious and complex grey area – it is about compromising, prioritising and questioning the strength of your belief system. In the case of Hume’s rhinos, the film questions whether human interference in nature is preferable to escalated poaching.

It implicitly asks if we can turn a blind eye to cruelty in the hope that, in commercialising and containing, we can prevent extinction. Grappling with these topics through interviews and statistical analysis, the film observes and contemplates, using a mixture of finely drawn areal shots and rougher, hand-held footage.

Trophy doesn’t shy away from the implications of such breeding methods – there is a lingering shot of a wounded elephant, dying in agony, as a group of trophy hunters watch with abject indifference. In some scenes, the camera hides behind the hunter to build a sense of dread. In these moments, we are just as powerless as the prey and even more fearful for it.

Published 17 Nov 2017

Anticipation.

Wrongly assumed this was another vegan-friendly, anti-human documentary...

Enjoyment.

A powerful film, but also sometimes very tough to watch.

In Retrospect.

Is it brutal enough to really change viewers’ minds?

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