The elephant in the room

The New York Film Festival examines the ivory trade.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Endangered African Elephants in Simon Trevor's White Gold at Tsavo National Park:
Endangered African Elephants in Simon Trevor's White Gold at Tsavo National Park: "Since 1970, I've seen 40,000 elephants killed."

White Gold, Sydney's Pollack's Out Of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, and Michael Apted's Gorillas In The Mist starring Sigourney Weaver have one man in common: Simon Trevor, the director of White Gold. His documentary on the organised poaching of elephant tusks, narrated by former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, puts an end to fantasies of glamour and harmless luxury based on ignorance and lies.

Producer Arne Glimcher with White Gold director Simon Trevor on the crisis in elephant poaching:
Producer Arne Glimcher with White Gold director Simon Trevor on the crisis in elephant poaching: "This time around it's much more serious because there's less elephants and more demand." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The New York Film Festival now takes on the challenge of raising awareness with their newly announced panel The Crisis In Elephant Poaching. The discussion will be moderated by Last Days director Kathryn Bigelow and will include WildAid’s Executive Director Peter Knights, Assistant District Attorney of New York County Julieta V. Lozano, journalist Peter Godwin, and human rights activist K’naan Warsame.

The ivory trade is a very bloody business. Renewed developments in organised poaching, the demand from a newly prosperous Chinese market and soaring ivory prices seriously endanger the elephant's survival as a species. "Columbia has cocaine. Afghanistan has opium. Africa has ivory." White Gold, in brief, precise steps, throws harsh light on why today the largest land mammal is on the brink of extinction.

As tusks of a dying species become more valuable, more people invest in the cruel trade, determined by market supply and demand. The bands of poachers are seen to be highly organised and the use of helicopters widens their range. African tourism is severely affected. "Some countries are arming their rangers and community conservancy scouts to guard against poachers," Hillary Clinton points out. The rangers of the wildlife conservancies are in danger as well, often brutalised like the elephants, and even killed.

Albert Maysles supporting Simon Trevor's White Gold
Albert Maysles supporting Simon Trevor's White Gold Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Simon Trevor told me "Steadily over the years elephants have gone down in numbers. Since 1979 the scientists say that 900.000 elephants have been killed for their ivory. Quite frankly, the demand now from the East, primarily from China, from Vietnam, Thailand and that's because those economies are growing… More and more people can afford to buy ivory and this could mean the end of the elephant, if this is not stopped at the present rate. I believe it will be stopped. This time around it's much more serious because there's less elephants and more demand."

The World Premiere of Kathryn Bigelow’s three-minute Public Service Announcement Last Days in collaboration with Annapurna Pictures will be screened before The Crisis In Elephant Poaching panel discussion on Saturday, September 27 at 6:00pm at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

The event is free to the public and tickets will be available at the box office an hour prior to the start time.

Tempted by a tiny elegant ivory egg spoon? White Gold makes it appropriately difficult to feign oblivion as to where the luxury item came from. Quite like how the rabbit fur collar on your anorak is no longer harmless, once you open the door to knowledge, ivory has to lose its allure. Blood is on the keys - and you can't remove the awareness.

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