Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau never thought much about big
game hunting. In fact, the two
photojournalists-turned-filmmakers, who have been a couple for
years, didn’t even know how each other felt about the
Then almost four years ago, Schwarz was on his computer when he
came across a “trophy shot” — a photo taken of a hunter next to
the animal he or she has just killed. Schwarz shouted his
displeasure, which fell on deaf ears as Clusiau didn’t see any
problem with it.
“Growing up in Northern Minnesota it’s what people do, hunting,”
Clusiau, sitting alongside Schwarz, told Business Insider. “So to
me I felt everybody does it. It’s normal.”
“I grew up in Israel where if you shot a deer you shot Bambi,”
That led to the making of “Trophy” (opening in select theaters on
Friday), the duo’s powerful documentary that delves into the
world of safari hunting. On the surface, the movie looks to be an
anti-big game hunting movie that sheds light on man’s atrocities
toward animals. And with the main financing coming from Impact
Partners — a company most recognized for backing the 2009
Oscar-winning movie, “The Cove,” which looks at the slaughter of
dolphins in Taijii, Japan — that wouldn’t be a bad guess.
But Schwarz and Clusiau go beyond the low-hanging viral
sensations that diminish the sport, from Donald Trump’s sons
taking trophy shots while on a hunting safari in Zimbabwe,
to the death of
Cecil the lion at the hands of a Minnesota dentist.
Instead, they explore a complex issue in which big game hunting
has fueled not just breeding of endangered species but wildlife
conservation as well.
That was the biggest shock Schwarz and Clusiau got when attending
Safari Club International’s annual Hunters’ Convention in Las
Vegas in 2014. Essentially the Comic-Con of hunting, the
three-day event offers everything from buying the latest
high-tech hunting weapons, to getting a new fur coat,
to spending thousands of dollars to make a reservation to
hunt a buffalo or rhino on an African safari.
“It angers you that there’s so much money, but then they started
to throw this argument at us that money is what drives this, this
is why there is wildlife conservation,” Schwarz said.
The movie explores this tricky topic with lush visuals and
moving interviews from those on the front lines of the issue, who
are passionate about their stance.
There’s Philip Glass, a Texas sheep breeder who is on a quest to
hunt the “big five game” (African lion, elephant, cape buffalo,
leopard, and rhino); John Hume, a South African who owns a rhino
farm and cuts off their horns to protect them from poachers;
Christo Gomes, a South African all-inclusive safari owner; and
Chris Moore, a Zimbabwean anti-poacher.
With a crew only made up of Schwarz and Clusiau, the two traveled
with their subjects around Africa and other parts of the world.
How to tell their stories evolved through time. At first, the two
wanted to tell it as a verite with no narration or interviews.
However, gradually they brought in interviews to better explain
why people believe big game hunting is a positive for wildlife in
“When we started working with Craig Packer, the ecologist, that
helped us reinforce doing interviews because he’s the one that
says how this model can bring a restored ecosystem,” Clusiau
said. Including interviews also revealed a surprising emotional
moment. In one interview with Gomes, he breaks down and cries
after asked if he has ever had an emotional connection to the
animals he breeds that are eventually killed by hunters on his
Then there are the movie’s visuals, which aren’t just stunning
but showcase the incredible access the filmmakers got. To pull
that off was physically draining and at at times dangerous.
The two often lugged around a drone for miles to film aerial
shoots. It paid off after Glass killed an elephant. Before men
from a local town picked it apart for meat to bring back to their
village, Schwarz and Clusiau filmed an aerial shot via drone of
the dead elephant. It’s one of the most memorable shots in the
But getting drone shots almost led to the filmmakers getting
stranded in the bush. After filming shots with the drone one
morning, they went back by boat to the camp where they were to
meet their hunting party. But when they got to the site no one
“I think the guy misunderstood that we were coming back,” Clusiau
Remembering being told that buffalo and crocodiles roam the river
at this time of day, the filmmakers knew they couldn’t walk along
the river to get back to the home base. They thought of taping a
note to the drone and flying it back to the base to get help. But
finally Schwarz got reception on his phone and after calling
numerous numbers where no one picked up the phone, he emailed the
general email box of one of the companies that assisted in
connected them with the hunters. Four hours later, a boat came to
pick them up.
But their closest call wasn’t realized until six months after
shooting was completed.
Schwarz got a voice mail out of the blue from Moore who shared
what he learned about the poacher they were trying to track down
when Schwarz and Clusiau filmed one of his anti-poacher raids:
“So, I discovered from an informant yesterday that that night
when you were on that raid the guy was at home, he was there, he
jumped out of the window, remember there were no burglar bars.
And he had the 375 high-caliber rifle and he didn’t know which
guy to shoot, you or me,” Moore said in the voice mail, which
Schwarz played for Business Insider. “He was confused. But he got
a beat on both of us a few times and then, anyway, he decided to
not pull the trigger for whatever reason.”
Besides the incredible access, what makes “Trophy” so memorable
is its ability to tell both sides of a complex issue. Schwarz and
Clusiau are well aware the movie is a tough sell for people. But
what they have realized is once they get people in the theater,
they’ll recognize the other side of the argument.
“We had Philip Glass at a screening in LA, a very liberal
audience, and two days later he got this long email from a person
there saying they were still against trophy hunting but thanked
him for the dialogue,” Schwarz said. “And from the hunter side we
hear from people who say, ‘Maybe ‘God giveth’ isn’t the best
excuse.’ That makes me happy. We are happy when people will go
out of their comfort zone.”
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