Sides Of A Horn


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Sides Of A Horn
"The high production values on display here don't take away the film's raw edge."

We all know that rhinos are critically endangered. The last male Sumatran rhino died just last month, ending hope for its species, whilst desperate attempts are currently underway to save Northern white rhinos using test tubs embryos, their Southern kin having gone extinct last year. Donations are constantly being sought to help with this work and with the preservation of those left in the wild, who are hunted for their horns, lumps of keratin no different in nature from fingernails, which are highly sought after in traditional Chinese medicine. But what does all this look like on the ground? What does it cost people living near wild rhino populations to protect them, and what is really going through the minds of those whose bullets could drive species to extinction?

Sides Of A Horn tells a simple story purportedly based on true events. Dumi (Welile Nzuza) has dedicated his life to protecting rhinos, a choice which means danger not only for himself but for his wife and child. He sees himself as duty-bound to protect South Africa's natural heritage. His sister Dimpho Motloung, however, is sick, and that means that her husband Sello (Sherldon Marema) needs money. with local gangsters offering him big bucks to bring them a horn, a rhino in the local area and a full moon rising, he's sure of what he ought to do. The brothers-in-law are pitted against each other in a contest that can only end in tragedy.

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Funded through Kickstarter but sumptuously shot and highly atmospheric, this is a film that captures the simple homes of the villagers as effectively as the majestic land beyond. It has a point to make about poverty and the different values that emerge in the country with a shockingly large gap between rich and poor - one of the enduring legacies of Apartheid. Dumi is seen by many as betraying his people, siding with rich white people who are more interested in animals than in the local people. His long term vision is commendable but takes considerable courage in a context where it's easy to understand why others prioritise the health of loved ones or even just the next meal.

The high production values on display here don't take away the film's raw edge. Even though we barely see the rhino, its quietness, gentle browsing mark it out as an innocent caught in the middle of something it could never understand. One thinks of how many of the big beasts of Africa have been lost since outsiders first made their way south through the continent. One thinks of the big beasts of Australia, wiped out by humans within a few centuries of their arrival there.

Sides Of A Horn doesn't preach; it shows sympathy to both its central characters and their families. It may help viewers around the world to understand why electric fences, lions and the risk of being gunned down don't prompt poachers to give up. Whilst inviting concern for rhinos, it illustrates that bigger solutions are needed to help endangered animals more widely. The horn, of course, is not just literal; it also refers to South Africa, and it sounds a call to action.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2019
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Sides Of A Horn packshot
The story of South Africa's rhino poaching war as told from both sides of the fence.

Director: Toby Wosskow

Writer: Toby Wosskow

Starring: Emmanuel Castis, Welile Nzuza, Mpho Noko

Year: 2018

Runtime: 17 minutes

Country: US


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