Safari (2016) | Venice Film Festival
Dir: Ulrich Seidl | Doc | Austria | 90min
Ulrich Seidl’s deadpan documentary portrait of mindless game hunters in the bushy and peaceful paradise of Namibia’s low veldt is upsetting and deeply enraging. His unjudgemental approach is the ultimate in’ less is more’ craftsmanship, leaving us quietly seething as we sit by powerless as a devastating cocktail of mixed emotions slowly percolates through our consciousness.
In a series of limpidly filmed and perfectly formed tableaux vivants, (that recall those of his last film In the Basement), game hunters talk of their feelings of tension as they carefully track their victims and the extreme euphoria of the adrenaline rush after they have shot their prey – or ‘pieces’ as they call them. One bloated and elderly couple (who look like a pair of raddled wildebeasts) proudly churn out a macabre price list of their upcoming massacre: it would only cost them a couple of hundred euros to shoot an impala. Another young couple – kitted out in the latest safari gear and gold watches – try to defend their actions as somehow beneficial to the ecosystem. So they are killing and getting away with it as do-gooders to the universe. So this is their version of charity work or ‘giving-back’ as it’s glibly referred to nowadays.
Out in the bush Seidl’s camera tracks the hunters on foot and in their jeeps as the trackers mark out the potential prey while a professional marksman accompanies them on foot offering tips and guidance in preparation for the shoot. In one particularly graphic scene a zebra is followed and shot down. The young hunter is then congratulated before posing for photos with his lifeless trophy which we later see being butchered in the makeshift abattoir, ready for its journey back to Austria to guild the wall. Not since the death of ‘Cecil the lion’ in 2015 have we been so moved and angered. This self justification of slaughter is also partly based on the fact that their are purportedly giving the local trackers, rangers and marksman a livelihood. That ghastly feudal adage springs to mind: “it is the duty of the nobleman to give employment to the common man”. But their job is vile and the scene where they are required to skin and dismember a giraffe is one of the most upsetting pieces of footage ever committed to camera.
Humour and light relief comes from watching another raddled old bloke gently snoring – beer can in his hand – to the ambient sounds of animals, as he waits for a potential shoutout behind a bogus hunting cabin.
Apart from the sheer horror of the killings, the most galling aspect of SAFARI is the glee and self-congratulatory nature of the hunters who trespass on this magnificent country. Many who have visited Southern Africa will have seen a notice: “Welcome to our country – take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”.
The feint-hearted and animals lovers will find this documentary distressing. MT
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016