Award-winning South African film-makers Susan Scott and Bonné de Bod have spoken about the sacrifices they made to bring their award-winning documentary on the rhino poaching crisis to life.
The two had to sell their houses, leave their jobs and move in with their mothers. “There were sacrifices and plenty of them,” said Scott. “We wanted to keep this film independent and that meant finding our own funding.
“So we crowd-funded and applied for filming grants. It was a difficult process. We had to throw ourselves completely financially into the filming and I never thought I would be living with my mother again at this age.
“But when we were away on shoots, I’m not going to lie... it was pretty amazing to have my mom fuss over my dirty laundry.” Their sacrifices and willingness to see through their dream of documenting the rhino horn war is finally paying off.
Last weekend Scott and De Bod’s documentary Stroop:Journey into the Rhino Horn War won the coveted Best Documentary award at the prestigious San Diego International Film Festival. They also scooped an additional two awards - from the Los Angeles-based Glendale International Film Festival where they were picked as the Best Female Film-makers as well as from the LA film festival, LA Femme, where they were awarded the Special Documentary of Focus Award.
Their documentary tells the shocking story of the poaching of rhinos and the trade in their coveted horn. In an exclusive first, De Bod and Scott filmed special ranger units inside the Kruger National Park and at the home of the white rhino, the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park.
The pair also travelled undercover to the dangerous back rooms of wildlife traffickers and dealers in China and Vietnam. The result is a powerful, hard-hitting and moving documentary that will challenge and shock viewers.
Stroop was one of 26 final films selected out of 350 submissions and one of five to win awards at the San Diego International Film Festival. The pair said they hadn’t expected to walk away with the Best Documentary award.
“The funny thing was, we were just so thrilled to be selected and in the line-up were two exceptional documentaries that had a real buzz to them for weeks before the festival, so either one of those two films was going to be the winner for us as they were American, current hot local issues and totally relatable to Californian audiences,” said De Bod.
“So we knew that a South African film about the slaughter of rhinos was going to be a hard watch, a necessary one, but not necessarily a winning film at a prestigious film festival like San Diego. Or so we thought.”
But they always knew that the documentary would do well. “I know that sounds arrogant, but our rhino crisis is a heartbreaking, powerful story that anyone anywhere in the world will relate to,” said Scott.
“You don’t have to have seen a rhino or have grown up in the Kruger to feel for them and to share in the struggle that our heroes on the ground are involved in to try to stop this. I knew that this story would connect globally.”
It took the pair three years to complete the documentary, discovering the dark truths behind the rhino horn trade. “The massive demand for rhino horn really took me by surprise. Sure, we’ve all heard the Vietnamese and Chinese consume and acquire rhino horn but to actually see how it is used and the mythical, powerful properties they give it Wow, quite something to see and film.
“The desire for rhino horn is huge and we met people in Asia who quite honestly told me that if they had the wealth to get it, they would.” De Bod and Scott experienced many challenging moments during their investigation.
“We were scared. Well, I was. I don’t think De Bod was,” said Scott. “She is fearless when it comes to rhinos. But we had some scary moments. We flew in countless helicopters just above the tree line, accompanied the police on raids and arrests, walked with rangers patrolling in the heart of the African wilderness.”
De Bod said: “Filming in a communist country like Vietnam brings with it its own challenges as the communist party controls all forms of media. “Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries with regards to freedom of information and is one of the biggest prisons for journalists and citizen bloggers in the world. So we had to be careful we weren’t arrested or deported for filming illegally and many of the wildlife smugglers are connected to the police.
“So we were very worried that if we were arrested they might plant drugs on us or worse.” The film-makers hope their documentary will help raise global awareness on the rhino crisis.
“Knowledge is power. If we don’t know the problem, how can we rectify it? We’ve all heard of global warming, but I think for many it hit home with the film An Inconvenient Truth’’ said Scott.
“So after watching Stroop, you will know the facts and you will be empowered to help our rhinos. I hope this can really wake people up to the dire situation they’re in.”