South African rhino film wins award in New York

10 November 2015

She was honoured with the award for Best Conservation Film, said South African filmmaker Reina-Marie Loader, because it meant the message in her documentary was reaching a variety of people.

South African-born Loader won the 2015 award at an international film festival in New York City. She is the owner of the Cinema Humain production company in Vienna, Austria.

Her documentary, Horn, has received many accolades, including a nomination for the Rhino Conservation Awards 2015 in July in the category Best Awareness, Education and Funding. On 23 October, the film won the award for the Best Conservation Film in the US.

Horn, according to film and entertainment industry news agency Screenafrica.com, focuses on a side of rhino poaching that is usually neglected. It highlights the social causes that drive people to poaching and shows that the conservation of rhinos can be a problem-solver for disadvantaged communities living on the borders of game reserves.

Loader explained that a connection with three rhinos in the Kruger National Park in 2011 prompted her to make a documentary about rhino poaching. “One morning I saw three rhinos emerging from the bush. They stopped and intensely gazed back at me for what seemed like ages. I’ve seen many rhinos before, but there was something about that morning and the way they were staring at me – it was different. Their magnificent frames were awe-inspiring,” she recalled.

“At that point, I had only read a few reports of poaching in South Africa although there were in fact already many rhino killings. Conservationists outside of South Africa also warned us repeatedly that poaching was moving in our direction,” she said. “Largely though, there was not as much news about this silent threat creeping into our country.”

Poaching of rhinos at the time was not such a hot topic, she said. “And that scared me a great deal.”

South Africa’s fight against rhino poaching

There have been more than 1 600 positively identified poacher activities in the Kruger National Park so far this year, according to the Department of Environmental Affairs. This implies that there are three incursions each day, anywhere along the thousand-kilometre long Kruger border.

By 27 August, 749 rhinos had been killed by poachers across the country. Of these, 544 were in the Kruger. This was an increase from the 716 rhinos killed by poachers countrywide by the end of August 2014. Of that number, 459 were poached in the Kruger.

Along with many private sector and conservation organisation interventions, the Department of Environmental Affairs is working with the security cluster departments, namely Defence and Military Veterans, Police, and State Security, to curb wildlife poaching.

Watch South Africa’s interventions against rhino poaching:

The birth of Horn

Loader said that after seeing the three rhinos, she made up her mind to make the film. “I struggled until 2013 to get a minuscule budget together. I left my job at the University of Exeter and we started principle photography shortly after that in July 2013.

“Since that day in 2011, I’ve often wondered if those three rhinos are still alive,” she admitted.

An emotional topic

Reina-Marie Loader

Filmmaker Reina-Marie Loader, whose film Horn has won accolades for its conservation message.(Image: Cinema Humain)

It made sense that her first conservation film would be about rhinos, Loader said. “I have always been interested in conservation – ever since I was a little girl. My love for animals (specifically elephants, rhinos, wild dogs and leopards) developed because of the exposure I had to wildlife as a child. My father was a conservationist and worked as an honorary ranger in several national parks.”

It was a huge honour to be recognised internationally for the work done by her and her team. “(Winning the award in New York) means a great deal to us because it (conservation) was an emotional and important topic to us, also, because such a platform allows the film’s message to reach a wide variety of people.

“Despite the fact that the film is about a dark situation we are facing in our country, it nevertheless insists that our country can deal with it.”

It was South Africans’ duty to do as much as possible to save rhinos from exploitation and extinction, Loader said.

The message of the film

The rhino poaching crisis was one of the problems in South Africa at the moment, Loader said, pointing out that curbing poaching went hand-in-hand with finding solutions for social problems such as crime, unemployment and lack of education.

“I often say it is very hard to stay optimistic in the face of all the problems that seem to confront South Africa at the moment. It feels like a tsunami of problems engulfing us, with rhino poaching being just one of them.

“The film’s ultimate message is therefore one of hope, claiming that it is only logical to tackle rhino poaching as part of the overarching problem. And by tackling it, you start to address the other issues as well.

“If we succeed in saving our rhinos without compromising our morality, the benefits will radiate outwards and affect all the other problems in a positive way. So protecting the rhinos can have a massive positive impact on the entire country.”

South Africans should stand strong and communicate to the world that our rhinos belong here. We should send a message that we are taking responsibility for their lives in a way that reflects the dignity we believe all living things should have. “This would include conservation programmes focused on the needs of underprivileged communities, a no-compromise attitude towards prosecution of poaching criminals, and – crucially – a national antitrade stance.”

Watch <emHorn

You can order a Blu-ray copy of the film from the Cinema Humain website or buy a downloadable copy from iTunes.

Loader also hoped that the documentary would soon be broadcast on South African television. “That has always been a goal for me, because I have made Horn for South Africans, even more than for an international community. It is meant to inspire us in South Africa to step up and do the right thing – not only for our rhino, but also for our people so as to reaffirm our common sense of right and wrong.”

Advice for young filmmakers

When it comes to advice for aspiring filmmakers, Loader said: “Don’t just make a film for the sake of making a film. Try to contribute to change the world with what you do, even if only for one viewer at a time.

“You don’t have to be the next (Quentin) Tarantino or the next (Steven) Spielberg. Be the next you, who would rather make films about difficult – and sometimes unpopular – subjects, because you believe it to be important,” she said. “If one person sees your film and is affected by it, you have moved the world.”