Lions. The big cats with which we are all familiar, roaming free in the wild, an unprecedented predator who knows no match. However, in ‘Lion Ark’, we are shown a side of the great animal that we would not necessarily be aware of. In cages barely longer than the length of the animal, they suffer for hours a day, at the mercy of the glaring sun, the blistering heat and their ‘masters’, who beat, whip, starve and wound the animals into submission for their circus ‘performances’.
‘Lion Ark’, directed by Tim Phillips, is a documentary that acts as a behind the scenes view of ‘Animal Defenders International’ and their quest to enforce the rule they campaigned for in Bolivia, which was to ban Animal Circuses. Despite this being implemented, there still remained a number of circuses that defied this law, knowingly ignoring the ruling of their country and forcing animals to perform in their shows.
This ruling came into fruition after an investigative team from ADI, who went undercover to expose the harsh treatment and deprivation that animals in such circuses are forced to endure every day. And when this rule was being ignored, the team re-grouped and returned to Bolivia to fight their biggest and most dangerous mission yet; to track down the illegal circuses and air-lift the twenty five lions from captivity in Bolivia, five thousand miles to safety in Colorado.
From the outset, it becomes apparent that this documentary is not simply a story of the Lions, or the members of the ADI or even the circus owners, but this is a conglomerate of personas, who together, can and do, achieve great things.
As the film opens, the audience is thrust into a fierce confrontation between rescuers and one of the circus owners who is brandishing a knife, slashing tires and refusing to co-operate, which helps to set the tone of the film from the outset, showing that this isn’t going to be an easy battle. The theme of ‘battles’ prevails throughout the film, both in terms of the battle between ADI and the circus owners, but also between the rescuers and the Lions, who still fear human contact. And then also the battle between the camera crew and the operation.
In terms of the filming, the documentary is neither a typical fly-on-the-wall nor is it shot as a beautiful nature documentary; it is both.
Shot on high-end HD cameras, the aesthetic of this film grasps both the beauty of the nature and the danger of the rescue and fuses them together in a crucible which forms a beautiful juxtaposition, reminiscent of the ‘battles’ we see throughout.
Overall, this film is an exploration into all the characters involved, none of which becomes priority and also an exploration into the personification of animals and their ability to thrive alongside humans. ‘Lion Ark’ is an awe-inspiring journey that grips and engages, showing how truly powerful a small group of people can be when they have a strong focus and a will to succeed in the face of adversity.