A rhinoceros is felled to the ground by an emission from a weapon fired. A group of people walk over. They cover its face. They hold its legs. They give it an injection. They saw off two horns. It’s a strange scene of barbarism.
And then the two parties walk away, for the most part, unscathed.
Documentaries about poaching, and as part of a contemporary trend, documentaries in general, are sometimes one-sided. Issues are often presented as a means of furthering a platform rather than remaining tools of exploration for staging the later presentation of facts.
Thankfully, this is not always the case, even when a documentarian sets out with a mission in mind.
TROPHY is a rare case in documentary filmmaking that shouldn’t be one. It changed everything about what it was doing midstream, and proudly admits it. That’s bold. Even if backers want filmmaker to see things a certain way, even if there were convictions going into something, being able to learn from experience is critical.
Co-Director Christina Clusiau explained the situation she found herself in while making TROPHY Sunday night at the first screening of the film for Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF). She stated that even though she and Reel Peek Films co-founder Shaul Schwarz planned to hit the hunting industry hard, they encountered some situations that made their filmmaking decisions difficult.
It ultimately came down to considering the stances of a South African man named John Hume who is on a quest to farm black rhino horn as a matter of profit that will bring a sense of value to a creature facing extinction.
It seems that the domestication of animals keeps some people in the business of preserving animals, even when they’re being bred to later be hunted or otherwise exploited. For animal rights groups, this may be a hard pill to swallow. But in a world where compromise is sometimes necessary, the appeal of turning a rhino’s horn into a consumer product to be farmed rather than hunting trophy becomes easier to understand.
If only the whole world could be so flexible.
Filled with scenes of excruciating pain and beauty as hunters, farmers and conservationists make their case, it’s no wonder IndieWire called TROPHY “jaw-droppingly beautiful and appalling” in the same headline.
TROPHY is not always an easy documentary to stomach. But it’s important one to see.
This film has screened at DIFF as presented by EarthxFilm and premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Clusiau will continue the festival circuit, with her next stop being in Durham, North Carolina.
Clusiau also shot the Emmy Award-nominated web series A Year in Space and the documentary feature AIDA’S SECRETS (2016).
You’ll encounter this film again, even if you don’t see it in a theater. It’s been acquired by Orchard Films and CNN. It’s just got too much to add to a conversation on a subject with a lot of polar opinion.
Shaul Schwarz is a documentary filmmaker, award-winning photojournalist and co-founder of Reel Peak Films, a short films production company which makes documentary content for magazines and news outlets. Schwarz’s debut documentary feature, NARCO CULTURA (2013), premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. He directed the Emmy Award-nominated web series A Year in Space, and co-directed the documentary feature AIDA’S SECRETS (2016). Schwarz also contributes to Time, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, History Channel, and CNN.
Christina Clusiau is a documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, photojournalist based in Brooklyn. She co-founded Reel Peak Films with Shaul Schwarz. Clusiau shot the Emmy Award-nominated web series A Year in Space and the documentary feature AIDA’S SECRETS (2016).
Christina explains the film’s mission in her statement below:
Follow Trophy on Social Media at @trophythefilm.