×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Tigerland’

'Born into Brothels' director Ross Kauffman's new documentary charts preservation efforts to save endangered tigers in India and Russia.

Director:
Ross Kauffman
With:
Pavel Fomenko, Amil Sankhala, Jai Bhati. (English, Russian, Hindi dialogue)

1 hour 37 minutes

A century ago, 100,000 tigers existed in the wild; now just about 4% remain. The threat of extinction of the species — one that historically has fascinated mankind — is always present in “Tigerland,” which finds “Born into Brothels” director Ross Kauffman looking at preservation efforts in Russia and India, two of the big cats’ primary remaining territories. This Discovery Channel documentary is higher on entertainment than educational value, but should please viewers when it premieres on the network March 30.

Apart from the tawny mammals themselves, the principal subjects are two leading conservationists: The affable Pavel Fomenko who, for a decade, has largely dedicated his life to the preservation of nature’s most “beautiful killing machine”; and Kailash Sankhala, who died in 1994 at age 69 after pioneering concepts of preservation and protection in India, often against stiff opposition.

Plentiful archival materials show what Sankhala was up against: In British Raj culture, bagging a tiger — or dozens — was considered a particularly aristocratic proof of masculinity. No diplomat, the conservationist irked many with an aggressive push for bans on hunting and the designation of refuge areas for the big cats, ideas eventually supported by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Sankhala’s ancestors continue to carry on the family tradition by promoting eco-tourism, with grandson Amit and great-grandson Jai getting plenty of screen time.

In the Russian Far East and northeast China, the Siberian tiger is the subspecies that still hangs on (several other types have already been hunted to extinction). Poaching is a huge problem, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Superstitious belief in tiger parts as folk medicine and such continues to make the ever-shrinking population a target. Fomenko and his colleagues, as part of a local World Wildlife Fund program, are seen stalking and capturing tigers for relocation that have ventured too close to human populations. Like many here, he finds the animal itself mesmerizing, almost magical. But the scary side of the awe it inspires becomes all too vivid when Fomenko, inoculating some cubs, is mauled by a literal “tiger mom” who rips through a fence.

The doc charts the role of the tiger in mythology and popular culture via some rapid-fire montages. But despite some impressive shots of the big cats — and other wildlife in their habitat — we don’t  learn a great deal about the species. The focus is entirely on their imperiled status and (usually negative) interactions with people.

Nevertheless, Kauffman has crafted an enjoyable armchair adventure that juggles the archival imagery, engaging present-day personalities and glimpses of the magnificent creatures themselves at a leisurely yet absorbing pace. One of the most attractive elements in this well-turned package are some handsome animation sequences by Daniel Sousa.

Popular on Variety

Sundance Film Review: 'Tigerland'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary — competing), Jan. 27, 2019. Running time: 97 MIN.

Production: (Docu) A Discovery presentation of a RadicalMedia production in association with Fictionless and BloomFish. (International sales: Discovery, New York.) Producers: Xan Parker, Zara Duffy, Fisher Stevens, Ross Kauffman. Executive producers: Dave Sirulnick, Jon Kamen, Justin Wilkes, John Hoffman, Jon Bardin.

Crew: Director: Ross Kauffman. Camera (color, HD): Matt Porwoll, Kauffman. Editor: Keiko Deguchi. Music: Nathan Halpern, J. Ralph.

With: Pavel Fomenko, Amil Sankhala, Jai Bhati. (English, Russian, Hindi dialogue)

More Film

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent and Elle

    China Box Office: Hollywood Sweeps Up With ‘Maleficent’ and ‘Gemini Man’

    The first Hollywood blockbusters to hit China in the wake of the country’s big National Day holiday have, as expected, swept away holdover patriotic titles that had previously ruled the box office. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” edged out another new release title “Gemini Man” to lead the pack with a $22.5 million opening weekend. While [...]

  • Maleficent Mistress of Evil

    Korea Box Office: 'Maleficent 2' Debuts on Top, Deposes 'Joker'

    Given a Thursday opening, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. The Walt Disney release earned $4.56 million from 612,000 admissions over four days. The fantasy adventure film accounted for 37% of total weekend box office in the country. “Joker” slipped to second after remaining on top for two [...]

  • Inside an Inox Leisure multiplex in

    India's Inox Multiplex Chain Reveals Ambitious Growth Plans

    Indian multiplex chain Inox Leisure has revealed ambitious plans to more than double its existing screen capacity of 600. The company is planning to add 900 more screens across the country over the next decade. “That’s the realistic answer, but my desire is to do it over the next five years,” Siddharth Jain, director, Inox [...]

  • Joker

    Why 'Joker' Is About All of Us (Column)

    Take a look at the photo above. It’s the most poetic image to have emerged from Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” and the reason I say “poetic” isn’t just because the shot has that caught-in-action indelible vibe of a quintessential movie poster: graphic, hauntingly composed, a bit shocking (at least, the first time you see it). It’s [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent in Disney’s

    'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Rules International Box Office With $117 Million

    Though Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” stumbled at the domestic box office, the Angelina Jolie-led sequel enjoyed a far stronger start overseas. The follow-up to 2014’s fantasy adventure inspired by the “Sleeping Beauty” villain took off with $117 million from 56 international markets. In North America, “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted with a meager $36 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content