CNN acquired the film, directed by Shaul Schwarz and co-directed by Christina Clusiau, at Sundance in January. The cable news network is heading back to the Park City fest next month as a buyer for a fifth year. Its first-year acquisition was Blackfish, and buys also have included Dinosaur 13, Escape Fire (which debuted at Sundance in 2012 but CNN acquired the following year) and Holy Hell. Sundance kicks off CNN’s annual look at films for investment; most years CNN has taken films there for premiere.
Amy Entelis, EVP talent and content development for CNN Worldwide, describes Trophy as an exploration of “the complex stakes surrounding sport hunting and wildlife conservation.”
The filmmakers said they wanted to explore the idea of what it means when people place economic value on wildlife.
Among the film’s stops, the annual conference for Safari Club International in Las Vegas, which features exhibits for hunting outfitters, guns, taxidermy services, conservation seminars and safari licenses. SCI attracts 20,000 visitors from around the world each year. Hunting clubs, and organizations like SCI, argue that the trophy permit fees secured by hunters engaged in legal activity make important contributions to African economies and also fund conservation efforts.
Since 1970, the world has lost more than 60% of all wild animals, with some species faring even worse. Populations of elephants have plummeted from 10 million in 1900 to 1.3 million in 1979 to only 350,000 in 2015. In 2008, the year prior to South Africa’s moratorium on the sale of rhino horn, 83 rhinos were poached. In the year after the ban, 333 rhinos were poached, and in 2014, more than 1,200 rhinos were illegally killed.
Hunting and habitat encroachment have impacted wildlife reduction, the film acknowledges, but it takes the position that poaching is having the most dramatic deleterious impacts. Poaching, the film argues, often is “connected to both corruption and terrorism.”