"My." Oh my. Appropriately the first word uttered in the video, "Blood Lions," is "my." The word – first-person, singular, possessive determiner – is spoken by one Ian Michler, and it is fitting, because, contrary to what one may expect, this pseudo-documentary is not primarily about the well-being of captive lions, but the emotions of Mr Michler. A truer title would have been: "Ian Michler: A history of my feelings."
"My technique," runs the murmured opening line enunciated by Mr Michler, "was to get on and off as quickly as I could."
Ian Michler obviously in the grip of some very important emotions, eyes oily with tears. Of course tears are the activist's bodily signal that something was "devastating, absolutely devastating." These are the actual words employed by Mr Michler, right there on screen, filmed lovingly in an extreme close-up, the better to show the lanky brown locks and the squint-wrinkles fanning from the corners of the eyes. He is so obviously groomed and attired to embody the soulful man-about-bush; speaker of Very Deep Thing; in touch with the universe and with his more sensitive side. He certainly looks like the type who can turn on the spigots at will. Mr. Michler, it seems, is a blubberer.
Is this man for real? Apparently not, the makers of the video suggest. Mr. Michler is listed in the credits as "SPECIAL CONSULTANT / LEAD CHARACTER." Well alright then.
What it was that so savaged the LEAD CHARACTER's emotions is for the moment unclear as he manfully struggles with his rampant feelings.
Next scene and all is revealed. Because what we see is a terse sign in big, thickset red letters (Arial Bold) on a blazing white background: STRENG PRIVAAT, hanging from a square-mesh fence. A plain face-brick cottage is lurking in the background. Everything is framed in a black-bordered soft-focus shot, looking all spy-movieish and ominous.
Well, there you have it. Whatever horrors are lurking beyond, they are obviously perpetrated by a beastly Afrikaner. Is this introductory shot mere accident? Of course not. Directors and film editors fastidiously choose images to suit soundtrack and narrative. Mr. Michler clearly loathes Afrikaners, as do the producers. The way the shot is framed, they may as well have run a caption saying: Here be evil beer-swilling, tobacco-chewing, thick-skulled, inbred, sister-impregnating, wildlife-hating, illiterate, boorish, exploitative, Afrikaans-mumbling monsters.
Throughout, with just enough exceptions to prove the rule, the bad guys who trick American hunters out of lots of moolah to shoot tame, drugged and deceived lions, are portrayed as being Afrikaans, while the valiant, rear-guard action against these numbskulls is almost exclusively fought by enlightened, sensitive, passionate, brilliant and very English chaps and lasses. (Curiously the film-makers of "Blood Lions" also don't seem too fond of black people. Except for desultory shots of black workers, the only other blacks are a Khama-minister from Botswana and a girl from abroad cooing over a lion cub. The minister from Botswana notwithstanding the entire parade of "experts" in the documentary is lily-white.)
The establishing shot with its dire "STRENG PRIVAAT" warning stems from 1999. Apparently the filmmakers couldn't find other footage of the horrors lurking on Afrikaner farms. Still, what they have will do very nicely for their purposes, thank you very much. We have the small wire pen with lion cubs sardined into it, the faeces-strewn concrete slabs, the forlorn-looking lions – especially a pathetic young cub dragging its almost-lame rear quarter as it tries to walk; exactly the type of facility so detested by the South African Predator Association (SAPA.)
This cub, in fact, is shown quite often amid strong hints, though it is never expressly stated, that its disability is the result of genetic wear and tear brought on by inbreeding. This technique is used blatantly and repeatedly. It really is a very old standby ruse of the deceitful filmmaker. Sound and image are the two elements of a film and used in tandem to inform. The soundtrack provides information about the image on-screen or the image can be used to explain what is heard.
When the viewer sees something on-screen, it is only natural to assume that what is heard on the soundtrack is elaborating on it and not something else.
It is really easy. Show a limping lion while the off-screen voice is talking about inbreeding and there you have it. This wayward breeding is the cause of all the maladies suffered by the poor feline. Those vile Afrikaners! Yet there is more mileage to be gained from that particular image, because not only is the poor little cub suffering, it is powerfully suggested that ALL captive-bred lions are inbred and therefore genetically unsound. But there is more. If the captive-bred lions are genetically flawed and wild lions differ from captive-bred lions, then wild lions don't interbreed.
This kind of specious syllogistical nonsense and taint-by-suggested-association permeates the entire video and renders it useless as a sincere enquiry even if it will be feted by the unobservant and the uninformed.
The sequence leading to the introduction of the dramatic title serves as illustration:
Lions crowding a tall fence.
Lioness slinking nervously away in the veld.
A hunting rifle on a padded rest at a shooting range just as the bolt is closed, presumably chambering a round, ready to fire.
Apparently stealthy footage of the boots of hard men as they stride away across the veld with the tip of a rifle barrel drooping into view.
A high game fence.
Another fence with, in view, the thick fingers of a white man showing as he marches forth.
Young lions crouching at yet another fence staring ahead of them.
Big male lion being shot in the veld.
All of this is followed by a rapid montage of scenes of dead lions and some very live ones milling about in agitation while a few lion carcasses are disrespectfully manhandled by white men, all of this to the soundtrack of spookily tinkling piano arpeggios and shivering strings.
Now to assemble it the way the ordinary viewer will experience it – and the way, undoubtedly, the filmmakers intended it to be interpreted:
There is a bunch of inbred lions, cruelly kept captive by a troop of dim-witted Afrikaners in an overcrowded animal prison. A lioness senses danger and attempts to sneak away. A rifle is loaded and a squad of vicious hunters set off. The young lions stare in apprehension at the unfolding tragedy. There are fences everywhere and the helpless victim is trapped. The shots crack loose. Are they aimed at the lioness? No! A big male, hemmed in on all sides by the unyielding fences, is cut down in a brutal hail of bullets right in view of the other lions who mill around helplessly. Dead lions everywhere. White men gloating.
What a concoction. Not the lioness, nor the cubs, nor the hunters, nor the big male are ever seen in the same camera shot. They could be continents away from each other and the footage could have been taken decades apart. Oh well, you know what I mean. Or at least you know what Mr. Michler means.
In cinematic terms the LEAD CHARACTER's adventures are called "The A Story." Most often there is a B Story as well which concerns the life and times of a lesser character. In "Blood Lions" a supporting actor is roped in from America itself in the form of a very earnest hunter-type going by the delightfully entertaining moniker of "Rick Swayze." Yep, that's right, he's got three-quarters of the name of the late famous hoofer and actor, Patrick Swayze, although our Rick has only half the size and roughly a twentieth of the personality of his famous namesake. This doesn't preclude him from some dirty dancing of his own, his favourite style being rhumbaing with the truth.
The B-Story plot is a somewhat unimaginative one: our little Rick, serenely situated in Oahu, Hawaii, will book a lion hunt with one of the supposedly nefarious "canned-hunting" outfits and have a film made of how easy it is to bag one of these hapless animals.
One could hardly ask for a more cut-to-fit secret agent. Swayze is a hunter and he looks like the very model of a modern hunter. His head is shaven outlaw-biker style and his chin is sunk into a very serious shrub of a beard. In a sting operation it takes one to know one, but Swayze is at pains to point out that he is a hunter in the noble tradition.
"The hunting that I've done," he pontificates, "has been primarily to put food on the table. You get your deer tags, at the start of the season, and, you know, you do a proper hunt."
To put food on your table, huh? So the motive is to stave off starvation? Righhhht… Well, Oahu has some very nice supermarkets, I happen to know. They've got meat and everything and you don't even need to bring a rifle when shopping. Clearly hunting for food is not what's driving Swayze to take up arms against the deer population of America. Could it be that when Rick Swayze's hunting he's "having the time of his life?"
This hunter-gatherer soon displays some strange notions about hunting. As part of the motivation for his undercover assignment he watches video footage of a male lion being shot. It is the same footage of the big male used in the title sequence. One size really fits all when you're making a sham video.
Swayze comments, "What disturbed me the most, was the baiting of the animal, and just as he was about to take a bite, you know, the shots start going off."
With you there, Brother Rick. Which is why, for instance, the South African Predator Association (SAPA) is vehemently against canned hunting – the baiting or tranquilizing of lions in a hunt.
He follows this with a puzzling take on the incident. He counts the shots, ("Blasting away, blasting away, blasting away…") and then tut-tuts, "and it's not just one shot. Six shots."
Apparently the way Rick hunts, you only use one shot. If the animal doesn't die after being hit once, well, that's not good, but in the Name of Mother Earth, just stop shooting the poor animal.
This is just nonsense. Proper hunting ethics demand that if you take it upon yourself to level a rifle at an animal, it is your holy duty to ensure that the creature dies as swiftly and efficiently as possible, regardless of how many shots it takes once you start shooting. Say what you will about the unseen hunter that shot the male – he did not let the animal suffer. The moment the first shot struck, the lion was infused with adrenaline and so would not have registered any pain. From first to last shot took four seconds. The lion died without ever knowing what hit him. So, poor show on the baiting of the animal, but well-done in sending it off with great efficiency.
And so our self-righteous little crusader boldly sets off for Africa to expose injustice, but the B Story, unfortunately for our man Rick, was just not going to stick to the script.
Once in South Africa he takes time out to visit a taxidermist. While he delicately wrinkles his nose at the large display of trophies, he reserves his real disgust for the state of a stuffed lion's facial skin. It seems that Master Swayze doth prefer his lions with disfigured faces.
"The lions that I saw in that taxidermy place," he sniffs, "weren't scarred."
"Lots of times when you watch the video the males are just like all gnarly-looking, you know, they got scars on their nose because they'd been fightin' over the females or they'd been plotting to take over a territory; they got scars on!"
The taxidermy animals clearly don't pass the "gnarly-looking" test.
"These animals are pretty," he laments. Their good looks he attributes to their sad lack of "bush history."
It seems the noble Rick would feel better about ranch lions if they only had the self-respect to get into more fights the better to get proper cuts, lacerations, contusions, gashes, lashes and wounds which are prerequisites for some decent scarring.
The animal welfare activist's crusading is the result of transposing their own emotions and views onto the animals. They then presume to know exactly what the animal is feeling and never hesitate to lecture the muggles on it. Swayze knows, just knows, that a lion would rather forfeit a life of leisure, surfeit of food and freedom of cares for a life in the veld that is often nasty, brutish and short. If life in such a scar-rich environment is so attractive, one wonders how he can tolerate living in what seems like a very comfy apartment in Hawaii. Maybe Mr Swayze should remove himself to live primitive life in the jungle in order to gain some valuable "bush history."
After this the American Asterix's campaign for truth and justice quickly unravels. He arrives at the lodge in the dark of night, where he is not buried by persons turning the sods with their bayonets, but heartily welcomed by burly, jovial men doing some real damage to the Queen's language in their efforts to speak English. Young Rick is invited to partake of food and drink.
In the early half-light of the next morning he goes all Blair Witch, whispering into the lens of a selfie-video camera about his trepidation of the ordeal awaiting him.
First order of business is to decamp for the shooting range to have his shooting prowess assessed by the professional hunters. In one of the very few truly amusing incidents in this sombre video, viewers are treated to the sight of Rick's slight frame being buffeted by the recoil of his big rifle.
"You've got no business being here," the hunter of deer, all wrinkle-browed and dagger-eyed, admonishes, "unless you can, you can handle a weapon properly."
Ah yes, there we go again. The sly insertion and editing of the comment leaves us to infer that this lodge, for the sake of a quick buck, will tolerate any hunter, even those who could not "hit the broad side of a barn." (Mind you, judging by his paper target, our man from Oahu is apparently not exactly capable of M o A accuracy himself.)
Back at the lodge the young PH's give Rick final instructions on shot placement and general comportment in the veld and it is here where his undercover scam fizzles out. The camera crew has been filming him openly, but it is a safe bet that he never informed the owners of the lodge or obtained their permission. He certainly was mute about his quest and the editorial destiny of the footage. Things are going swimmingly with the team getting some nice shots which, with a little creativity, they can position as somewhat incriminating of real or imagined evil. Mission success beckons…
… and then trouble rolls in. The owner, a very large Boer, enters and starts demanding answers. What are they, Rick and crew, doing here? What newspaper or TV programme are they representing? What are they planning to do with the material?
All very reasonable questions, albeit delivered in a thunderous voice and in an obvious rage. The cameraman in shot seems nonplussed and very eager not to be there. But little Rick obviously reckoned that good ol' American indignation will carry the day.
"This, this is not good," he quavers manfully after the irate boss-man had left.
One of the young PH's start explaining in poor English but in clear, reasonable terms how they've been the victims of exactly the sort of sordid ruse Rick is trying to pull.
"Ahm, ahm, ahm upset here, guys, you know," Rick protests, his accent flattening out and his stutter increasing with every breath. "Ahm, ahm, ahm not happy here."
And in truth, he did seem decidedly unhappy as he hems and haws, apparently outraged that his friends, the camera crew, could ever be under suspicion of the very deed they're performing.
The return of the very large, very angry owner convinces Rick to tuck tail and scurry away. The next camera shot is of a dirt road seen through the rear window of an SUV while the vehicle speeds away as if the occupants are fearful that the game lodge owner would pursue them like Pharaoh chasing after the absconding Israelites.
"I think that's as far as I was willing to push this," Rick bleats from the front seat. Good call, Davey Crockett. That really was a very big Boer.
He goes to some length to make sure that they are really, really leaving. "The farther away we get," he trills, "the better I feel." No kidding?
The little investigative caper was a bust. No matter. All the film producers need to do is leave the viewer with the unfounded impression that this particular establishment, and the wider ranch lion industry, make a huge dishonest buck by having tame, drugged lions killed in a pokey little backyard by wealthy Americans wishing to pep up their flagging egos with a bit of the ultra-violent animal slaughter.
And so, that was a wrap as far as the B Story goes, except of course for the closing statement, delivered by Rick, back in bush-Yoda mode and very relieved now that there is some proper distance between him and the Owner.
He message to prospective clients is that "… this is not a real hunt."
Then again, his adventure had not been a hunt at all. All he did was scamper away after his dishonest little project had been exposed. Somebody did, after all, put Baby in the corner.
With that the Noble Hunter presumably slinks back to America to do some noble hunting, to, you know, put food on the table and stuff.
The main portion of "Blood Lions" is about the derring-do and hijinks of the LEAD CHARACTER, who go prowling around like a khaki-clad Poirot to sniff out dastardly deeds the one moment, and the next like a salty old investigative reporter digging for the truth. The truth? Hah! That's rich! Like any gaggle of Social Justice Warriors, the producers and their LEAD CHARACTER nimbly sashay around the truth in service of their "narrative." SJW's who follow the agitprop manual have a particular relationship with the truth: they avoid it.
The video is in effect a long string of interviews. Every word in it comes from an interview, even the off-screen dialogue. These interviews are rather crudely edited and positioned to nudge the viewer into buying the producers' "narrative." The roster of interviewees is starkly divided between the good and the bad, and when we say bad, we also mean ugly. There is precious little examination in the film of the content of the interviews. Whatever the good guys say is good, and whatever the bad guys say is bad. Truth, for these filmmakers, never comes from unexpected sources. Truth is what they say it is.
The filmmakers are all too aware that the credibility of interviewees or the lack of it is crucial to bolster their "narrative." Their tame "experts" are unashamedly endowed with some very pompous titles like wildlife rehabilitation & crisis expert or eco-tourism consultant, safari operator & author. Their opinions are propped up by careful positioning in the flow of the video and enhanced by choice of footage.
This is really a sordid bit of manipulative filmmaking. They've cribbed their craft from the world's most odious documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore, especially in their willingness to disregard the truth wherever it bashes into their own philosophies. But if the lack of morality is pure Michael Moore, these filmmakers have none of his inventiveness and narrative craftsmanship.
The producers of "Blood Lions" and their LEAD CHARACTER have all been championed for their sacrifice and bravery. What sacrifice! – they stand to make millions from video sales and by milking donations from gullible people. What bravery! – they consistently shy away from the truth and are unwilling to publicly acknowledge their true position on hunting. They don't even have the inner fortitude to openly confront their victims. There are plenty of lion farms who would be most agreeable to host the filmmakers and their cameras. In their cowardice, however, they've been skulking around stealing footage of crude establishments abhorred by proper lion farmers.
Ultimately "Blood Lions" will be tripped up by its sheer hypocrisy and patent dishonesty. They've wrung too much mileage out of their portrayal of all lion farms as dank, dismal, depressing lion cub factories. But they are vulnerable to the truth, so stand by for a spate of videos which will showcase a large number of lion farms with excellent facilities and wide-flung spaces populated by relaxed, happy lions. This will demolish a major pillar of the video which strongly hints, even insists, that all captive lions are dungeon-dwelling, broken-spirited wretches.
If the breeding part of "Blood Lions"' argument is damaging to itself, it is the "bullet" part which will eventually smash it apart. The filmmakers and its activists are not only encouraged by a wave of international support, they are actively stimulating and riding it. While the producers are still willing to play patty-cakes with the hunting industry, their international supporters are clearly, vociferously against hunting. It is clear that most of the visceral reaction of these supporters upon viewing the video does not come from the scenes of lions in captivity, as distressing as that is, but from the images of lions being hunted. And that points to a fatal fissure in the "Blood Lions" edifice.
The producers identified the support of the hunting fraternity as a crucial tile in their campaign mosaic. And so they've entered into a relationship with the hunters which can only be described as schizophrenic. They seem in a daze of confusion about their own principles. Are they against hunting or just trophy hunting? Or not against trophy hunting but against trophy hunting of lions? Or not against trophy hunting of lions but against trophy hunting of captive-bred lions? No use asking them.
They don't seem to know.
But if they are not true to their own selves, make no mistake, their supporters know what their supporters detest. By far the majority of their supporters – who are mostly city dwellers from Boston, Berlin, Budapest and the like – hate hunting and hunters of all stripes, even renegades on the "Blood Lions" team like Paul Stones and Garry Kelly. Sooner or later the "Blood Lions" gang will have to veer to the one side or the other; reject their supporters or split ranks with the very hunters who'd reinforced them. Of course it is the hunting industry in toto which the "Blood Lions" activists will eventually shun. They will then be compelled to attack the livelihood of those very hunters whom they so actively wooed. This will lead to a consolidation of the hunting fraternity and all of a sudden the hunting of captive-bred animals will turn out not to be the show of horrors as painted by "Blood Lions."
Like any Social Justice Warrior troupe, the "Blood Lions" gaggle is not interested in conversation or a search for solutions; they are intent on destruction.
The last word of the video is inevitably left to the LEAD CHARACTER.
MICHLER: "Up until a few years ago we referred to lions as lions. This country, this industry, has ensured now that we have to differentiate; we have to talk about wild lions. Five, six, seven years ago, I mean, all lions were wild."
Right now lions are not a threatened species. Their numbers are increasing at a very healthy rate due to lion farms mostly operated by SAPA members.
Should the "Blood Lions" wish come true and the day without any captive-bred lion dawns, all the trophy hunting, poaching and lion-bone-industry pressure would be on the relatively small population of lions in our game reserves.
The producers of "Blood Lions" have appropriated themselves the right to be the final arbiters as to how lions are best to be protected and conserved. If they are wrong we could very well see the day where there are once again be no differences between lions. They will all simply be – dead lions.