Cleveland International Film Festival } April 7 – April 18, 2021 } Playhouse Square

Through the Eyes of Compassionate Caretakers

March 28, 2019   |   posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers


When David Hambridge first visited Kenya, he visited the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where he met Sudan, the last male northern white rhino.

Equally memorable was his encounter with one of the rhino's caretakers, James Mwenda. The latter's compassionate personality and compelling backstory stuck with Hambridge—so much so that Mwenda ended up playing a pivotal role in the touching documentary "Kifaru."

The full-length film highlights not just the Herculean efforts to keep Sudan healthy and safe—as well as preserve the northern white rhino as a species—but also the realities of animal extinction.

"James had dreams to spread awareness and wanted Sudan's story to reach the entire world, as many did not know these rhinos were the most endangered mammals in the world, with only three left," shares Hambridge, who directed and co-produced the documentary. "I told him that I wanted this story to be told authentically, by Kenyans."

Aware that he didn't want to let Mwenda down, Hambridge frequently visited Kenya two or three times a year, for about a month at a time, over the next three years. To ensure "Kifaru" was told "in the eyes and voices of Kenyans," he also chose a different approach to the sensitive subject matter. "It’s verité and not driven by interviews," Hambridge says. "There’s a lot that happens, and a lot of emotions that are felt."

Luckily, he found a perfect creative foil in producer and editor Andrew Harrison Brown, who shared his storytelling perspective and commitment to centering Kenyan voices in the narrative. "We were constantly trying to find a balance between telling an honest and interesting story without sensationalizing anything," Harrison Brown says in a separate interview.

"Overall, neither of us are satisfied or interested in taking the normal approach to what we’ve come to expect in most wildlife and environment documentaries, especially ones that take place in Africa."

That nuance and respect shines through "Kifaru," and cements that even though the documentary can be sad—Sudan passed away in March 2018—the film conveys greater truths and takeaways.

"We wanted to highlight the human lives that live on the frontlines of wildlife conservation and are often overlooked and under-appreciated," Harrison Brown says.

Adds Hambridge: "This story to me is more than a documentary about wildlife, it’s about brotherhood. Families that depend on wildlife tourism, the future generations, and the honest, real Kenyan guys that sacrifice so much in the bush to make sure these rhinos are safe.

"Sudan was an icon," he continues. "He was the Ambassador of Extinction until he passed, and so this story isn’t about where he was found, his entire life. It’s a greater theme that is heavy at times but gives a glimpse into what the extinction of a species can mean for the men who love and protect these animals day and night."

–Annie Zaleski

PHOTO: Caretaker James Mwenda, left, and Kifaru director David Hambridge, right.

PDF  Download Related PDF [1.6 MB]

Related Screenings:
03/28/19 @ 6:50 PM – Kifaru
03/29/19 @ 4:30 PM – Kifaru
03/30/19 @ 11:45 AM – Kifaru

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