At the Movies 2016: Safari

AUT 2016
Written by
Directed by Ulrich Seidl
Watched on 14.09.2016

I was very much looking forward to Ulrich Seidl’s newest documentary, however, I have to say that I ended up slightly disappointed. There is one truly devastating moment, and the interviews were interesting, but overall, I think that his previous film, “Im Keller”, was much more interesting and revealing.

Maybe it’s me. I’m a rather logical, rational, facing-the-truth-kind of guy – which makes it hard for me to really get worked up about these people who go on safari. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s sad that they feel the urge to hunt those beautiful creatures, but as long as humanity kills thousands of animals every day for food, and as long as I keep being even the tiniest cog in this machine, blaming them for hunting would be extremely hypocritical. I mean, before I went into the screening I was at Burger King eating a Whopper, for fuck’s sake. Yes, there’s definitely a difference between killing for food and killing for fun, but as far as I understood it, said safari’s are regulated (they’re not poachers), and the slayed animals are put to good use, nothing is wasted. Like regular, controlled hunting, if done right it ultimately serves an important function, even though we might not like the idea. So if some guys earn a living from organizing everything and giving wealthy people the chance to do what they feel they need to do, I guess I can live with that. It’s not my thing – I would never go on a hunt – but I don’t see what’s so much worse about that than the industrialized killing of animals which “live” in far poorer conditions, just because we think that these animals are more aesthetically pleasing than, say, chickens, turkeys, pigs or cows. (Aside: I’m aware that you don’t have to see it as level-headed as myself, and just two seats from me a girl got up about an hour into the movie, saying that she was done watching those sick rich fucks slaying beautiful, innocent creatures. So, feel free to disagree with me on this).

What all of that boils down to is this: Even though Seidl, again, just shows what they’re doing, without allocation of blame, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he very much wanted us to detest them. Which I simply couldn’t bring myself to do. Even with the portly older guy, who we were supposed to laugh at when he slogged himself up and down the ladders, I found it somewhat admirable (without condoning or agreeing with what he’s doing) that he still practices this hobby that’s obviously so important to him, despite his physical condition. Ultimately, I simply couldn’t condemn any of them – which made the movie somehow a hollow affair. The first 15 to 30 minutes in particular were rather a drag. We follow those guys around, without any context. It got better once the interviews started, but I thought that it was a pity that we never really got to know them. Ulrich Seidl didn’t really seem all that interested in them, while I would have very much liked to know what drives them to do what they’re doing. There also once again were those shots of people standing around in some sort of still life, which didn’t really do anything for me. What made it worse was that they mostly were of the people of color working at the lodge, which the movie wasn’t interested in at all. Not one of them is allowed to speak a single word into the camera. That might very well be intentional, in order to emphasize the role they’re playing – that they’re statists in these safaris, albeit doing important work – but in neglecting to give them a voice, Seidl does nothing to improve the situation; he just illustrates it.

The most interesting parts of the documentary were the interviews, which unfortunately were far and in between. There’s the occasional racial slur, as well as the interesting contradiction of the guy who’s running this safari lodge being an environmentalist who loves animals (and hates humans), and some very small glimpses into the fascination of hunting, but if anything, the latter only amplified my hunger for more insights into that, instead of saturating it. And even though the movie – as the aforementioned logical human being that I am (Spock would be proud of me) – mostly left me cold, there is one truly haunting scene with a giraffe that was difficult to watch, and affected me deeply. If “Safari” would have had more of those, as well as offering a far deeper glimpse into the minds of the hunters, it could have been a fascinating study of human’s urge to kill. Instead, while still partly entertaining and intriguing, it fails to enrich the already existing discussion of this controversial topic in any way. Which, arguably, wasn’t what Seidl wanted to do in the first place – but which nevertheless, in my view, makes “Safari” rather redundant.


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