Just over three years ago, the charity Animal Defenders International undertook an ambitious and highly dangerous operation to rescue 25 lions from a number of circuses in Bolivia, where they had been subjected to a life of appalling misery and cruelty. The entire rescue operation was filmed by the charity, and in October last year, Lion Ark was released onto the film festival circuit. To date it has won five awards, the most recent of which were secured at the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona and the Omaha Film Festival in Nebraska.
This incredible story involved a diverse group of people – from Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Britain and America – all of whom were determined that those who were defying a ban on the use of animals in circuses in Bolivia should not be allowed to get away with flouting the law.
The story of Lion Ark began when an undercover investigation by Animal Defenders International (ADI) revealed the horrifying conditions in which these majestic creatures were being kept – filthy, starving and struggling for survival. It was as a result of this investigation that animal circuses were banned in Bolivia, but the illegal practice continued nevertheless, in defiance of the law.
The team behind the investigation returned to Bolivia, with the aim of tracking down each one of these circuses in order to save every animal. Lion Ark – combining live action, conversations, interviews and reactions, which took place as events actually unfolded – is an account of the harsh reality of the confrontations, the heartache and incredible risks which the team had to face, not knowing whether they’d succeed in their mission to rescue the lions and transport them to safety in the United States.
Having to contend with furious circus owners – and even more furious lions – the ADI team also faced treacherous journeys, as the trucks loaded with lions had to negotiate perilous mountain passes to transport the animals to an initial place of safety. Field stations had to be built from scratch – to provide facilities for the lions to be nursed back to health before their onward journey to the US – with rescuers desperately trying to hold together the rusting and collapsing cages which were their only protection from the angry creatures which they contained.
Lion Ark was written and co-produced by Jan Creamer, President and co-founder of Animal Defenders International. Director Tim Phillips describes it as “a film about respect for people and animals … you see the worst of humanity, but also humanity at its best … Lion Ark shows how animal protection is a vital part of the fabric of social justice, where human society draws a line as to what is, and is not, acceptable”. Actress Jorja Fox – an associate producer of the film – also appears in it.
Unquestionably enthralling, Lion Ark also represents a remarkable episode in history. It’s a story of bravery, compassion, camaraderie and determination, culminating in a huge operation to airlift these 25 lions to a place of sanctuary in the United States. It’s also the uplifting story about a poor but proud country which stood up to animal cruelty – its people cheering in the street at the sight of an ageing lion heading to a new home after a lifetime of loneliness. Most importantly, though, this heroic undertaking has been the catalyst for a change in attitudes to animals across an entire continent.
The 25 rescued lions are now living free, in family prides, in massive natural enclosures at The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, and at ARK 2000 in California. Their care will be funded by ADI for the rest of their lives.
Since its release, the film has won the Audience Choice Award at the San Diego Film Festival, Best Documentary Award at the Sun & Sand Film and Music Festival, the Audience Choice Award at the Anchorage Film Festival, Best Environmental Film at the Sedona International Film Festival in Arizona, and the jury prize for Best Documentary Film at the Omaha Film Festival in Nebraska. Lion Ark was also nominated for Outstanding International Motion Picture at the recdent 45th NAACP Image Awards in Pasadena.
It’s also been shown at the Raindance, Mill Valley, Starz Denver and Virginia film festivals, and the Hawaii, Fort Lauderdale, Irvine and Beloit International film festivals, and a further screening is scheduled for the forthcoming Palm Beach International Film Festival.
The hope now is that, once the film festival season has ended, an international distributor or TV network will snap up this remarkable and inspirational piece of film-making, so that it can be screened to cinema or TV audiences around the globe.
The Lion Ark Trailer can be viewed online at: www.lionarkthemovie.com