Movie review: Ivory Game investigates ivory trafficking

Ivory Game is an undercover documentary, which was released Nov. 4, about the legal and illegal multibillion ivory trafficking that has been taking place in mainland China. Ivory is collected from the tusks of poached elephants across Africa and sold for an absurd amount per weight measurement.

According to the film, “over the past five years, more than 150,000 elephants have been killed for their ivory”. The sad reality is that elephants could become extinct in just 15 years, and this serves as an alarming reason for heightened awareness concerning this issue.

A slow lowering shot on two lone cars following close together through the cloudy Tanzanian landscape starts the documentary. In fact, it felt like an opening scene of an action movie until the cinematic prologue sunk in with a two-minute backstory on the ivory trade.

Multiple stories across a couple countries intertwine with each other, starting off separate before merging a connection in the end. The characters create a dynamic that makes the viewer feel like they’re right there with them.

That was a benefit of seeing this documentary. The whole time I was watching it I felt substantially informed about what was going on, who the main characters were, and what their role was, which made me feel grounded as a viewer.

The overall feel of this documentary oozes with a sense of helplessness and heartbreak. Directors Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani show families upon families of poached elephant carcasses from an aerial angle, which adds an indescribable magnitude to the scene.

Even human life is a sacrifice for the elephant’s survival, as nearly 3,000 rangers of the surveillance team have given their lives fighting for this cause.

I was blown away by how much revenue was being racked in by whoever was involved with this trade. Some owners were on top of a few million dollars’ worth of ivory tusks stacked shelves. In a shop where the undercover investigators were at, a hand crafted sword out of ivory was worth $200,000, a small statue was $10,000, and a painted tusk was worth $170,000.

What made this documentary really hit the viewer’s heart was how sympathetic it makes you feel towards elephants. The head of The Big Life Foundation security based in Kenya, Craig Millar, describes the elephants with great detail.

They live 60 to 70 years, have an amazing memory, and even hide their tusks when they know humans are watching them. Millar goes on to note how elephants take a few moments to sniff and observe death scenes of other elephants. They’ve even been known to bring tusks back to their original carcass.

There’s a little tension during certain moments, mostly when the investigators risk getting caught when they go undercover. Other missions involve raiding houses for ivory, but sometimes, more importantly, weapons. This is important in terms of preventing groups’ ability to hunt elephants, since they’re not very good at defending themselves.

The hovering camera shots Davidson and Ladkini utilize makes the viewer feel like they’re floating above and observing the surrounding environment, almost like a dream. A lot of emotion and information is constantly exposed throughout this vivid documentary, which makes it just as memorable as it is motivational.


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