Film has the capability of changing mindset and highlighting the challenges facing our society from inequality to poverty to security and even religious conflicts. Today, we have seen films showcase climate change, habitat loss and challenges facing our wildlife. Thus, film has become a powerful tool for creating awareness, not only to the general public but governments as well.
Sides of a Horn is the first film to tell the story of Africa’s poaching war from both sides of the fence. Based on actual events, and filmed in one of the communities most directly impacted by wildlife crime, the short film follows the journey of two brothers-in-law fighting on opposite sides of Africa’s poaching war. This dramatic short film paints an unbiased portrait of a modern war that is tearing communities apart and driving a prehistoric species to the verge of extinction.
In 2016, while traveling in South Africa, Writer and Director, Toby Wosskow, found himself lost in the natural beauty of the game reserves and the wildlife who call it home. One afternoon, he was walking through the bush with a game ranger, when they stumbled across a white rhino. What struck him more than the animal’s beauty was that this scene could have been taking place 50 million years ago or today. He was looking at a living, breathing time machine in a land that time forgot. However, the magic of that moment was over when he found out that this magnificent creature is being massacred to the brink of extinction.
Speaking to people living near these parks, Toby Wosskow learned that men and women from the same communities, and sometimes even the same family, are killing each other, along with their iconic rhino, to feed an entirely unnecessary demand on the other side of the world. A nonsensical demand for rhino horn in parts of Asia is fueling a poaching war across Africa. International crime syndicates are preying on desperate people living near protected areas and offering them a fraction of the overseas profits to poach from their own wildlife. Meanwhile, proud anti-poaching rangers are putting their lives on the line to protect the animals.
When Toby got back to the U.S., he continued researching and found that there was a fair amount of international media coverage about the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade, but nobody was talking about the communities on the ground who were being torn apart by this war. His objective as a filmmaker became clear – He was going to expose the social impact of the illegal wildlife trade and humanize the men and women most directly affected. He wrote a dramatic short film, based on actual events, that explores how two people from the same level of poverty, the same community, and even the same family can end up on opposite sides of this war.
The poaching crisis is a complex issue and the conversation around it must go beyond simple right and wrong. By painting an unbiased portrait of this modern war and exposing both sides of the struggle, it is Toby Wosskow’s hope that Sides of a Horn will be a catalyst that inspires a greater discussion that can lead to positive change. The human death toll is rising and the rhino is facing extinction within a decade. One strength of the short film medium is the ability to tell vital, urgent stories, and this story is as urgent as they come.
There have been a lot of incredible documentaries that have done so much for the poaching crisis. However, I believe there is a whole group of people that the documentaries are not reaching –the people who only watch narrative films, and the people who are not yet open to the concept of conservation. By approaching this as a dramatic, cinematic, human story, I hope we can widen our audience beyond those who are already activists.
While the film is scripted, spending time with the people in the middle of the crisis allowed for every line of dialogue, every character and every story to be written from a direct level of truth. In production, the community in which we were filming became a huge part of the film making process itself. It became a sort of ebb and flow of art imitating life and life imitating art, which really allowed us to immerse the audience in the world of these characters.
Just days before we began production, Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, died. The day we began production, a rhino was poached in the park we were filming in. On the day we wrapped production, 5 Anti-Poaching Rangers were killed in Virunga National Park. When we got back to Los Angeles to do post-production, the horrific news stories continued on the other side of the world, but they felt more and more present.
The most common mentality in fighting this crisis is “buy more guns, kill more poachers”. By humanizing the men and women on the ground, and showing the complexities of their situation, I hope our film makes people consider more sustainable solutions. We have to find ways to incentivize the people living next to protected areas to take care of their wildlife instead of poaching it. The point of the film is not to provide answers, it is to create a conversation. I believe positive change can only begin with an open dialogue.
The short film, Sides of a Horn, will be released on June 25, 2019. Save the date.
The short film, written and directed by Toby Wosskow, from Executive Producer Sir Richard Branson, was an international co-production between US companies Broad River Productions, Whirlow Park Pictures and Frame 48, alongside South Africa’s The Televisionaries and YKMD Productions.
Watch the trailer.