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Lion Spy - Film Review

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by Jonathon Tonkin (subscribe)
I'm a 26 year old male Senior Reporter for Weekend Notes. I Graduated from A Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing and Communication) at UniSA in 2014. As well as writing for WN I have also done pieces for the Adelaide 36s and Mawson Lakes Living.
Published November 25th 2021
The underbelly of killing lions
In documentaries presentation of information and how you convey your message are the most critical components. Documentaries cover a wide range of subjects and are made up of different styles of presentation but in the end clarity is key. Is the Lion Spy concise in how it delivers its message, is it effective?

Lion Spy, by filmmaker Rogue Rubin, follows Rogue as she goes undercover into the secret world of African poachers. Delving deep into a space of callous brutality and unending greed, Rogue pulls open the curtain to the people involved and the machinations that keep the poaching machine running. Rogue is, without a doubt, a brave individual. Hiding in plain sight amongst armed killers in the wildness. Who knows what could of happened if her cover was ever broken? Rogue Rubin is steadfast in achieving her goals and shining a light on this seedy underbelly.

Taking all that into account though this documentary isn't about her. It's about the lions. As far as imagery is concerned, Lion Spy has that in spades. Rubin's expertise and uncompromising nature allows her to get stunning shots and footage of tragic scenes as you see in great clarity people standing around watching beautiful animals bleed out. There's no question that the use of pictures and sound is striking in the way it conveys this world of savagery. No question that it is effective.

The other side of the coin in documentaries is how information is presented. Rogue Rubin having immersed herself into the world of illicit poaching has taken on a form of Gonzo journalism. Reporting on a subject by immersing yourself in said subject. Normally Gonzo journalism is a very captivating way of reporting on a particular sphere or sub-culture of the world but considering the subject matter, I'm not entirely convinced it's the best method. The vocal information is provided by narration by Rubin, footage from the poachers in question and interviews with some talking heads. I would say the majority of the voice-over material is Rubin describing her experiences and her journey into the world of poaching and while her story is quite fascinating it does draw away from her main subject which is the brutal slaughtering of innocent animals. Her interviews are concise and direct and get straight to point of what poaching is all about, money and ego. I guess her personal experiences can be a brief respite from the general callousness of it all but I feel there was a really opportunity to lean into just how depraved poaching is.

All in all, just how effective Lion Spy is can be argued either way. Is it a must-see? Absolutely! What is going on in Africa and the cogs that make it work need to be seen by as many eyes possible, so that the light Rubin has shone can burn brightly. She has taken a grave risk to put this project together. It is an entirely miniscule risk to see this film. Lion Spy will be showing at select theatres from the 24th November.
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When: 24th of November
Where: Cinemas Everywhere
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