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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: The Last Lions

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March 04, 2011

Movie Review Friday: The Last Lions

Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme that's currently in theaters or on DVD. 

The Last Lions (2011)

In theaters now

Filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert have lived in the Botswana bush for 30 years. Their film, a National Geographic feature called The Last Lions, pays tribute to the world they’ve come to know and love — as seen through the eyes of a lioness.

The gravelly narration, courtesy of Jeremy Irons, intensifies the dramatic story of Ma di Tau (Setswana for “mother of lions”), a lioness who loses her mate and is thereby obligated to strike out for new horizons with her three cubs. They take a perilous journey to an island in the Okavango Delta, where she does her best to eke out a living among a fierce herd of water buffalo and contend with threats from a rival pride across the river. Life as a single mom in the wild is no picnic, and her losses are heartwrenching.

Drawn from the two years the Jouberts spent following Ma di Tau, the film is visually stunning: The chaos of a hunt filmed from above contrasts starkly with the quiet of a hazy dawn spent stalking. As for the plot, it toes a fine line between documentary and high drama, slipping occasionally into what some might deem excessive anthropomorphism. The Jouberts' intention, they say, was to tell an emotional, intimate story that conveys the array of characters they’ve come to know — as opposed to hurling grim statistics about how humans are doing wrong.

They hope that audiences will find something in common with Ma di Tau and her family, and that the film will spark conversation about the alarming worldwide decline of big cats: 50 years ago, some 450,000 wild African lions existed. Today, there are fewer than 20,000. To that end, National Geographic is committing all profits from the movie to the Big Cats Initiative, a collection of conservation programs to protect lions, tigers, and leopards. 

Out in wide release today, The Last Lions is as much a call to action as it is a dramatic portrait of one of the world’s most magnificent animals, a species that urgently needs our help.

--Zoë J. Sheldon

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