You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Trophy’

The intersecting interests of hunters and conservationists are detailed in complex, challenging form by Shaul Schwarz’s bracing doc.

Philip Glass, John Hume, Michelle Otto, Christo Gomes, Joe Hosmer, Adam Roberts, Craig Packer, Tim Fallon, Richard Hume. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6333066/

The 2015 killing of “Cecil the lion” by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer sparked domestic outrage over the practice of big-game hunting, yet it functions as only a minor piece of the much larger puzzle assembled by “Trophy,” a complex nonfiction portrait of wildlife hunting and conservation that’s more interested in posing challenging questions than proffering easy answers. Director Shaul Schwarz (“Narco Cultura”) and co-director Christina Clusiau tackle this hot-button topic from numerous angles to craft a multifaceted look at the intersection of big business and animal-rights protection. While its more graphic sequences may scare some viewers away, its ability to enrage, enlighten and confound in equal measure make it a non-fiction prize of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

“Trophy” opens with American recreational hunter Philip Glass overseeing his son’s maiden shooting of a doe — a bracing sequence that immediately segues into the even more disturbing sight of South African John Hume supervising a team of workers as they sedate a rhinoceros and saw off its tusk. While those initially appear to be kindred introductory scenes, they’re soon revealed to represent different sides of a thorny issue. That’s because Hume, far from a thrill-seeking killer, is a man who’s dedicated his life (and, he claims, upwards of $50 million of his own resort fortune) to running a rhino farm where he breeds the beasts as well as protects them from hunters by harvesting and selling their valuable horns.

Complicating things further, Hume is a dogged conservationist who wants rhino hunting legalized in his native South Africa, because he believes such a measure will halt the illegal poaching that has thinned the species’ herds to extinction-grade levels (less than 30,000 left in the world, and dropping). He’s not the only one who suggests a similar strategy throughout “Trophy.” From a Zimbabwe anti-poacher to Philip himself, who soon embarks on a years-long quest to successfully hunt Africa’s “Big Five” (i.e. elephant, lion, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino), many voice varying degrees of an “If it pays, it stays” ethos which contends that endangered animals can best be protected by allowing and managing legal hunters to kill them, versus the unregulated poachers who care solely about butchery for immediate financial gain.

The intertwined relationship between capitalistic profiteering (embodied by a gaming industry that hosts Las Vegas conventions with more than 20,000 annual attendees) and animal conservationism is presented by “Trophy” as a hopelessly messy one. And it’s further confused by other factors, like the African villagers who simultaneously want their local wildlife protected, and dispatched with, lest predatory lions eat their cattle and destroy their homes. Even the men and women involved are emotionally torn between elation, resignation, entitlement, callousness and empathy, with avowed creationist Philip proclaiming that it’s his biblical “privilege” to hunt (since God gave man dominion over animals), and South African cattleman-turned-safari bigwig Christo Gomes getting teary-eyed discussing the deep emotional bond he shares with the creatures he cultivates for others’ sport.

Directors Schwarz and Clusiau move between their various points of interest with aplomb, in the process raising difficult questions about the virtuousness of a booming pastime that seems driven by greed, arrogance, and cruelty on the one hand, and yet has also led to the revitalization of regions (and species) that would otherwise be in ruins were it not for the revenue generated by aficionados such as Philip. The irony of this situation — that killing animals, often for personal enjoyment, produces financial earnings that help safeguard them, all while staving off worse illegal slaughters — isn’t lost on “Trophy” or its speakers, whose alternately reasonable and horrifying opinions hammer home the twisted, and in some respects irreconcilable, dynamics at play.

Offering up stark images of animals being shot and carved up, intimate moments of heated debate and private contemplation, and gorgeous up-close-and-personal panoramas of rhinos, lions, elk, and giraffes roaming their natural habitats, “Trophy’s” wealth of conflicting facts, figures, and arguments routinely force one to re-calibrate their feelings about the issues at hand. The result is a lament for both the animals at the center of so many crosshairs, and for a modern world seemingly only capable of saving lives by taking them.

Sundance Film Review: 'Trophy'

Reviewed at Digital Arts Screening Room, New York, Jan. 16, 2017. (In Sundance Film Festival – competing.) Running time: 108 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — U.S.-U.K.) An Impact Partners, Pulse Films, Reel Peak Films, The Long Run presentation, in association with 19340 Prods., BBC Storyville, Chicago Media Project, Candescent Films, Influence Films. Producers: Lauren Haber, Julia Nottingham. Executive producers: Sharon Chang, Lilly Hartley, Jeffrey Tarrant, Maxyne Franklin, Kate Townsend, Victoria Steventon, Lars Knudsen, Tom Hardy, Dean Baker, Dan Cogan, Thomas Benski, Lucas Ochoa. Co-producers: Alex Scharfman, Alon Schwarz. Co-executive producers: Jenny Raskin, Steve Cohen, Paula Froehle, Cristina Ljungberg, Blaine Vess.

Crew: Director: Shaul Schwarz. Co-director: Christina Clusiau. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Shaul Schwarz, Christina Clusiau. Editor: Halil Efrat, Jay Arthur Sterrenberg. Music: Jeremy Turner, Erick Lee.

With: Philip Glass, John Hume, Michelle Otto, Christo Gomes, Joe Hosmer, Adam Roberts, Craig Packer, Tim Fallon, Richard Hume. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as a reliable box office draw. Even so, “La Llorona” and [...]

  • FX's 'Snowfall' Panel TCA Winter Press

    John Singleton Hospitalized After Suffering Stroke

    UPDATED with statements from John Singleton’s family and FX Networks John Singleton, the Oscar nominated director and writer of “Boyz N’ the Hood,” has suffered a stroke. Sources confirm to Variety that Singleton checked himself into the hospital earlier this week after experiencing pain in his leg. The stroke has been characterized by doctors as [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow

    'Curse of La Llorona' Leads Slow Easter Weekend at the Box Office

    New Line’s horror pic “The Curse of La Llorona” will summon a solid $25 million debut at the domestic box office, leading a quiet Easter weekend before Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” hits theaters on April 26. The James Wan-produced “La Llorona,” playing in 3,372 theaters, was a hit with hispanic audiences, who accounted for nearly 50% [...]

  • Jim Jarmusch in 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    Film Review: 'Carmine Street Guitars'

    “Carmine Street Guitars” is a one-of-a-kind documentary that exudes a gentle, homespun magic. It’s a no-fuss, 80-minute-long portrait of Rick Kelly, who builds and sells custom guitars out of a modest storefront on Carmine Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, and the film touches on obsessions that have been popping up, like fragrant weeds, in [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    ‘Missing Link’ Again Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by the TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Annapurna Pictures claims the top spot in spending for the second week in a row with “Missing Link.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.91 million through Sunday for [...]

  • Little Woods

    Film Review: 'Little Woods'

    So much of the recent political debate has focused on the United States’ southern border, and on the threat of illegal drugs and criminals filtering up through Mexico. But what of the north, where Americans traffic opiates and prescription pills from Canada across a border that runs nearly three times as long? “Little Woods” opens [...]

  • Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping

    Beyonce's Netflix Deal Worth a Whopping $60 Million (EXCLUSIVE)

    Netflix has become a destination for television visionaries like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, with deals worth $100 million and $250 million, respectively, and top comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle ($40 million and $60 million, respectively). The streaming giant, which just announced it’s added nearly 10 million subscribers in Q1, is honing in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content