Bear with me because this one goes on a bit…
Have to admit that I'm late to the starting blocks on this one as the release date was back in November 2017, but I'm gonna give it a mention as it’s been a long, long time since I’ve seen such a distressing film.
Well, I say distressing, as the overriding emotion that gripped me as I watched this excellent and extremely hard-hitting documentary was one of intense anger, brought on by the attitude shown by the array of trophy hunters – men, women and, yes, children - that appear on screen. Their glee as they attempt to justify taking down an animal would be laughable, if it wasn’t so bloody tragic.
The film begins with a young lad – I’m not sure of his age, perhaps 11 or 12 – being taken into a hide by his doting and camouflaged dad, handed a rifle - with scope attached – and instructed which deer to shoot. The animal in question is grazing peacefully in a field, with no cover, and probably no more than fifty metres away. Unsurprisingly, the boy makes a complete horlicks of it and pater has to put the buck out of its misery. And yet the old man couldn’t be more proud.
Only a few minutes in and already my blood was starting to boil, but it told me what to expect as the film progressed.
Now, before you write in and lambast me for being a liberal softie, a tree-hugger, one of those wimpy animal lovers and a vegan to boot, let me assure you I am none of those. Well, at least not a ‘wimpy’ animal lover. I have no problem with animals being culled for conservation purposes if the reason is due to disease, injury, advanced age, if the animal has turned rogue or if the land acreage is such that it cannot support an expanding population of a particular species. Having worked as a volunteer on a South African game reserve, I’ve heard both sides of the story.
What really hacks me off is when some numbnut with a high-powered rifle shoots a young elephant as it’s running away, then has his/her photo taken as he/she poses by the carcass - which has been conveniently cleansed of blood - before it's hauled off to have its head removed so that the aforementioned dipshit can stick it on the wall next to his/her flat screen TV. And they try and tell us it’s all to do with honouring the poor beast that’s been shot. No, it’s so they can look like heroes to their equally dumb, gun-totin' buddies. While, to the rest of us, they just look like A1 assholes.
There's one sequence where a hunter - for that, read doofus, complete with a tag-along girlfriend also clad in camo gear – takes aim at a crocodile in an artificially created pond no more than thirty metres across, and fails comprehensively to kill his target. Cue disappointment all round until the wounded croc is spotted, hauled on shore and dispatched with the words ‘Oh, yeah, motherf*cker!’ ringing in its ears. The ‘hunter‘ almost pulls a muscle as he tries to slap himself on the back. As the truck pulls away with the croc affixed to the tailgate, the shooter’s parting words are: ‘Party time, boys!’.
There's quite a lot of that. I found that I had to pause ‘Play’ more than once to give myself time to cool down, I was that incensed. And don’t get me started on the sartorially challenged woman who wanted to shoot a giraffe. A giraffe..? Seriously..?
But moving on...
It's not all one-sided. To the film makers' credit they do present you with the other side of the argument: that hunting provides income for conservation projects as well as employment for local communities and, on occasion, such as with the shooting of elephants and other game, food for the community. Hunters and conservationists are given equal time to state their case, among them Will Travers from the Born Free Foundation, ecologist Craig Packer, and John Hume, who breeds rhinos in an attempt to preserve the species. Hume’s argument – having in his possession four tonnes of rhino horn – was that South Africa should lift its moratorium on the sale of the horn in order to prevent the animals being shot illegally to feed the Far East’s insatiable demand for what is perceived to be the horn’s Viagra-like properties. At the end of the film we learn that Hume won his argument. The SA ban on sales was lifted.
But to return to the trophy seekers.
Another telling sequence shows villagers who are unimpressed by one hunter’s attempt to prove himself lord of all he surveyed. This is the same guy who was so proud of his son. Having just shot a young bull elephant - the one that was running away - we see him enjoying what's tantamount to a post-coital cigarette with his trackers. Meanwhile, over to one side, the animal is still moving, clearly alive and presumably suffering a rather nasty death. It’s almost as an afterthought that he watches the elephant finally expire. This, by the way, was preceded by the villagers who took one look at the animal and because it was a juvenile and not a hoary old tusker on its last legs, declared ‘That’s not an elephant’. The hunter doesn't seem too bothered by that devastating judgement.
Now I could go on, but some of us have homes to go to, so I’ll end on what was for me the final straw. The same guy then goes on to shoot a male lion, from a hide probably not more than sixty paces from where the animal is trying to reach the impala bait suspended from a nearby tree. Having dispatched the beast, which he describes as ‘absolutely magnificent’, he then begins to weep copiously at having made his kill.
Bad enough you say.
Well it would be except that a few minutes prior to the kill he was declaring that the Bible says: ‘God gave Man dominion over all animals. That means we can do what we choose with them. Hunting and killing them is a big part in appreciating God’s creation.’
His name, we learned in the end credits, was Philip.
It should have been Dick.
Trophy is definitely a film worth seeing, if you can stomach it. If you'd like to check out the trailer first, click on the image at the top of the page and that'll provide you with the link.