'The Last Animals' poster

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When Kate Brooks, a much lauded war photographer, set out to make a documentary in Africa, she intended to investigate the links between the ivory trade and terrorism. As she dug into the story, it grew beyond anything she had imagined. The investigation led her around the world: from Myanmar to Vietnam, Kenya to the Congo, Seattle to Geneva and more. The links to terrorism were there, along with so much more. A complex web of people, circumstances, illusions and economic realities are woven together to create the situation driving the ivory trade and pushing elephants closer and closer to extinction.

The film’s focus grew to include the fate of the Northern White rhino. When Brooks began production, there were seven in existence. By the time the film was completed, only three remained. Their story, she realized, could provide valuable lessons as we deal with the plummeting numbers of elephants remaining. The film draws parallels between the warning signs we are seeing now regarding the fate of the African elephants and those that were ignored in recent decades as the Northern White rhino population dropped precipitously. Will the same fate befall the elephants, or will we act differently?

An evocative, informative and hard-hitting film, The Last Animals is a dense mixture of observational and, at times, undercover footage, interviews, informational graphics, and news clips. The film packs a great deal into its one hour and thirty-two minutes. Brooks’ background in photography and war zones is evident in the beautiful and often visceral on-the-ground cinematography in Africa. We follow rangers, biologists, scientists and researchers as they do all they can to keep the remaining elephants and Northern White rhinos alive.

Colonel Jacques Lusongo leads a troop of anti-poaching rangers in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the last Northern White Rhino was seen in the wild in 2007. Now, his team’s focus is the fight to protect elephants from poachers, and the film puts us right by his side as they do exactly that. We also meet Doctor Sam Wasser, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology in Seattle. He and his team provide forensic support for investigations into poaching crimes. We follow him both in his lab and in the field as he sifts through the latest seizures of black market ivory.

Meanwhile, Batian Craig, the head of wildlife security at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, where three of the last handful of Northern White rhinos live, is part of the desperate, and seemingly hopeless, effort to keep the last of the species alive. There is little hope they will reproduce. The film introduces us to all of the remaining animals, and we come to know them in some way. The feelings evoked as we watch the last of the Northern Whites expire are hard to describe. It is truly heartbreaking. If human beings learn best from failure, it is the best we can hope will come from the situation. The Last Animals asks the questions: Will we change? If so, when?

This year, there have been a number of excellent films examining the relationship between human beings and the wild animals with which we share the planet. It is a subject that is apparently lingering in the collective consciousness. The life of Jane Goodall was examined in Jane, the relationship between trophy hunting and endangered species protection in Trophy, and the challenges of remaining both moral and effective in activism in A River Below. The Last Animals belongs in the company of these excellent films. It is a powerful, moving and eye-opening documentary.

On Thursday, March 22nd, at 7pm at the Emerson Center, the Bozeman Doc Series presents the Montana premiere of the award winning new documentary, The Last Animals. The film will be preceded by the Bozeman premiere of Drive them Buffalo, the new short documentary from local filmmaker, Daniel Glick. Doors open at 6:30pm. Tickets are available at the door or before the show at Cactus Records and Movie Lovers. Tickets are also available online at www.bozemandocseries.org, where you can also buy Season Passes and 7-film punch cards, learn more about the series, and view trailers for upcoming films. The series will continue every other Thursday through April.

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