#VIWFF2020 Blog 8: “Breaking Their Silence: The Women on the Frontline of the Poaching War” Film Review

VIWFF2020 Blog 8: “Breaking Their Silence: The Women on the Frontline of the Poaching War” Film Review

Written by: Hanna B.

Breaking Their Silence: The Women on the Frontline of the Poaching War is a film directed by American documentarian Kerry David. The documentary, as its name indicates, is about various women fighting against poaching, or, for the preservation of wildlife and endangered animals. It begins with the filmmaker explaining her reasoning for creating the film; like many, she has always been passionate about animal rights and the environment, but came to an understanding that the problem – extinction of entire species and its consequences –  is more urgent and complicated than it seemed. She also realized that the many individuals trying to solve it are doing things beyond imagination. From park rangers to veterinarians, activists, sanctuary owners, animal caretakers, and many others, the unafraid, determined and inspiring women at the centre of Breaking Their Silence are going above and beyond to make sure future generations will still be able to see rhinos, elephants, giraffes or any animal roaming free in their environment; in Africa or anywhere in the world for that matter. 

Many of the mighty animals living in the African bushes might look powerful, but sadly, as history has shown time and time again, they are at the mercy of humans and their nefarious ingenuity, plain stupidity, or ancestral belief.

“Part of the problem is definitely rich people or warlords feeling the need to hunt endangered species for ‘fun’, or assert their status and power by owning their preys’ dead bodies.”

Part of the problem is definitely rich people or warlords feeling the need to hunt endangered species for “fun”, or assert their status and power by owning their preys’ dead bodies. But unfortunately, also poor or delusional folks assume that, for example, Pangolins– the most trafficked mammal in the world– might have, among other properties, mystical healing. This is quite striking if one were to watch the documentary at this time, considering Pangolins are also linked to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, even though scientists demonstrate that it is all placebo…

Historically and culturally, as pointed out by one of the activists in the film, many women are in similar positions, and, appallingly, many of the interviewees or people (men and women) trying to fight criminals and poachers in Africa suffered dire consequences at the hand of evil men. It ranges from frequent stares from members of the community who don’t understand their motivations/rely on wildlife trafficking as a source of income, to constant threats to them and their families, house invasions, and even rape.

Despite the adversity and obvious dangers associated with their jobs, none of them want to back out of this fight as more and more people, and governments are showing their support to their causes. In recent years, many countries in these regions have put in place strong measures to prevent poaching and protect vulnerable animals, but it is unfortunately not enough. So, quite repeatedly Kerry mentioned that the crew “was only given coordinates” to meeting locations in order to keep the places secret and to ensure the safety of people and animals alike.

One will notice that most of these courageous women are white or westerners– as are most renown environment/animal activist– and, as one might have also wished the director took more of a back seat, it will be easy to view the filmmaker approach as a “white savior/enlighter”. However, she tried her best to shine a light on the work of some of the African women of colour, or from local tribes, who decided to join the movement thus risking their lives. They are crucial parts of this war against poaching and fight for preservation, as they can be a bridge between their culture, who, either have for millennium hunted species that are near-extinct, or again, have very little choice but to rely on this industry for money. Because, in the end, it is really all about the money as it is one of the most profitable criminal activities on the planet and, the rarity of species combined with tougher access to them, makes their parts– from ivory to skin, bones, scales, tooth, flesh– even more precious and valuable….

With more of a made-for-tv look rather than one for the big screen, Breaking Their Silence often looks like it suffers from subpar technical qualities of more famed wildlife documentaries, that are actually mentioned by some of the participants as a source of motivation for their investment in wildlife preservation.  Besides, one might not be wrong in arguing strange editorial choices or no indication of clear direction, but what the documentary lacks in style and professionalism– which might get a pass considering the independent aspect/budget of this nevertheless praisable project– it makes up in substance and passion with in-depth interviews certainly digging in its subject. The film is virtuously letting us into what these women are doing, who they really are, and how or why they ended up where they are.

In addition, Breaking Their Silence wants to be inspirational by inviting the audience to get involved. Although we see that there are very few options for those interested in helping from afar, other than donating money to one of the organizations mentioned in the film. But, as one of the participants mentioned, one can always plead to their governments because if something happens in one country, and substantial actions are taken, there can be a domino effect globally. Sort of like the “circle of life effect” cited by many of the women; since we are all part of an ecosystem, the extinction of just one species, can create a chain of events that can eventually lead to the destruction of an environment – or even the planet, already in peril because of environmental crises and man-made climate change.

–Hanna B.

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