We reached out to our festival filmmakers to ask them questions about the experience of making their films.
What inspired this story?
Director, Writer and Photographer Richard Ladkani: The idea came from an article in the New York Times, that Richard Ladkani read in early 2013, about the possible extinction of elephants within ten years. It was unbelievable to him that neither he nor anybody he consecutively asked about it, had ever heard about this problem. Something had to be done to raise awareness and what filmmakers can do is make a film with the hopes of having an impact. He teamed up with his good friend and colleague Kief Davidson as co-director and they pitched the film to Terra Mater Factual Studios, as well as Vulcan Productions, who both agreed to produce it. The goal from the beginning was to make a film for the widest possible audience, have a global reach and try to pressure China to ban the trade in ivory. All of us were very focused on those goals and gave our everything to achieve what we set out to do.
Describe some of the challenges faced while making this film.
RL: The biggest challenge on this film was to keep up with our characters without interfering in their work. This was one of the mandatory requirements they gave us, to never hold them back. There could never be any repeats, everything needed to be captured as it happened with no second chances. It took an immense effort to stick to those rules but this type of approach also had a very positive impact on the look’n feel of the film. With a camera always hovering around, we were able to capture very special moments of emotion, danger and success that ultimately contributed to the success of the film and its impact around the world.
Questions for Specific Categories:
What do you see as the impact of the individual, group or movement featured in the film? What real tangible impact do you hope to achieve?
RL: We wanted to create a film for the widest possible audience, which was one of the reasons we chose a very thriller like approach when making the film. Our audiences should feel embedded with our characters and experience first hand, what it must be like to try to save a species from possible extinction. With over 100 million subscribers, Netflix was also part of the impact strategy as we wanted to reach a vast global audience upon release of the film. When China declared to ban the ivory trade only two months after our global launch date, we really felt empowered, especially as we were invited to open the film at the Beijing Int. Film Festival only two days after the announcement was made and later won the top award for best documentary feature. Even if our film only had a fraction of an influence for this ban to be put into place, it shows that films can make a difference and that it is worth fighting for what you believe in.
What tone did you try to capture through the editing this program?
Editor Verena Schoenauer: For editing "THE IVORY GAME“ the main goal was to show the urgency of the poaching crisis, which seems so far away for most of us, and give it a face. Getting as close as possible to those people, who fight and risk their lives everyday for the survival of elephants, and telling these scenes in a very rough style renouncing any mitigating details shows this cruel undercover war in all its brutality. It was a thin line to not leave the audience behind completely hopeless and desperate. Creating a sense for the elephants as intelligent individuals with very different characters was essential to make the audience understand what we are about to loose and that it is worth fighting for the survival of these magnificent animals. Besides unveiling the ruthlessness of the ivory trade as an international crime, the emotional approach was always an important factor. Only if people understand – not only intellectually but emotionally – what we are about to loose, they will support those people in the front-line who cannot win this fight alone. Because you only fight for what you love.
What were the biggest influences on how you approached writing this project?
RL: Our characters really believed to fight for a higher cause and we wanted our audiences to share that feeling with them. We chose to write a Jason Born type eco-thriller that evokes a feeling of immediacy, of being in the middle of the action at all times. We wanted to create some sort of reality you rarely see on the big screen. Nothing in our film was scripted and yet when we wrote it, we envisioned our film to play out exactly as it ultimately did. With some exceptions of course: Nobody could have anticipated that the largest poacher in East Africa aka “the Devil" would ultimately be caught on camera or that Kenya’s stockpiles would ultimately be burned. This was wishful thinking but quite a pleasant surprise when it became true.