In 2015, Minnesota dentist Dr. Walter Palmer shot and killed the beloved Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, setting off international outrage about trophy hunting. Director Shaul Schwarz and codirector Christina Clusiau explore the much-reviled sport, with surprising results, in Trophy. The film, beautifully photographed in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia by Schwarz and Clusiau, can be extremely difficult to watch, but it is a must-see even though it includes several scenes of brutal animal shootings, including the harrowing killing of an elephant that cries out after it falls to the ground, its family nearby. But what starts out as a horrific look at hunters who pay seemingly ridiculous amounts of money to hunt the Big Five — it can cost upwards of half a million dollars to shoot a buffalo, leopard, elephant, lion, and rhino — quickly turns into a compelling study of conservation, poaching, and sustainability. “I know that a lot of people are confused how hunting and conservation go together,” Safari Club International Foundation president Joe Hosmer says. Despite a serious decline in the number of lions, elephants, and rhinos in the world since 1900 — the film points out that sixty percent of all wild animals have been lost since 1970 — some argue that hunting is necessary and that breeders are helping keep these animals from disappearing from the planet, while others claim just the opposite. “There’s a big industry in our country, not just the crocodiles — the lions, the sable, the buffalo. Everything has been bred for a purpose,” says Christo Gomes, hunting outfitter for Mabula Pro Safaris. “So, yeah, sure, some of them will be hunted. We as humans are going to eat it, we are going to use the skins; that’s the cycle of life.” Born Free USA CEO Adam Roberts explains, “You can just pick whatever animal you want from the menu that they offer you, see the price, and book the kill.” Ecologist and author Craig Packer sees both sides of the issue but can’t escape the basic idea that “canned hunting [is] not sport; it’s just killing.” South African Predator Association president Pieter Potgieter complains, “If we can’t get hunters to hunt our lions, we slaughter the lions and sell their bones.” Somewhere in the middle is South African wildlife officer Chris Moore, whose job is to find a balance between canned hunting, poaching, and animals that can destroy local families’ livelihoods. “Every single morning I look in the mirror because we’ve got to make sure that we don’t cross the bounds . . . that we can’t lose our humanity for humanity,” he says, acknowledging that some hunting is absolutely necessary to help both the animal population and the people, who are desperately poor, but adding, “We have to keep this fight going.”
One of the central figures in the film is Buffalo Dream Ranch owner John Hume, the world’s largest rhino breeder, who has been selling off his vast assets to maintain the species. Every two years, Hume shaves off his rhinos’ horns so poachers won’t kill the animals in order to get the valuable objects; he firmly believes that the legalization of the rhino horn trade is essential to the survival of the animals. “The odds are stacked against them, and I’m always for the underdog. But more to the point, I got to know them, and they are the last animal in the world that deserves the persecution,” he says. “They don’t deserve it. They are the nicest, most user friendly animal that wants to stay this side of extinction.” Schwarz and Clusiau also follow Texas sheep breeder Philip Glass, a Bible thumper who comes from a hunting family and is seeking to score the Big Five. In describing a kill, Glass says, “And then you pull the trigger, and boom! You got him. And then all of that anticipation changes into a different emotion, of joy, and relief, and excitement, and anticipation, because you want to go over to him and see, what does he look like. What does he feel like. Where did he fall.” But it’s hard to feel much sympathy for the hunters as they clean up their kill, cover up the blood, and then pose for photographs over their trophy. As professional hunter Gysbert van der Westhuyzen, who leads trips in Namibia, says, “You have to work for your trophy. We believe here that if you want to hunt, it’s all in the foot, it’s walk and stalk. It’s also giving the animal a chance.” But he then tears up and heads off camera when asked if he ever gets attached to any of the animals he ultimately releases to be hunted. “There [are] animals you can’t let go of. You know, you will be playing with them and they become like a friend.” The film also includes a breeding auction, a look inside the Safari Club Convention in Las Vegas, a heated court case, and an intense debate over conservation between Hume and Born Free Foundation CEO Will Travers. But then you watch a hunter shoot a crocodile and yell, “It’s party time!” and it’s hard to think of anything other than what’s right in front of you. Schwarz (Narco Cultura) and Clusiau, who previously collaborated on A Year in Space and Aida’s Secrets, have done an outstanding job examining all sides of a surprisingly complex issue, which is about a lot more than just a dentist shooting a gorgeous beast and proudly posing with his victory. Trophy opens September 8 at the Quad with a series of Q&As with Schwarz and Clusiau on September 8 at 6:50 joined by producer Chris Moore and editor Jay Sternberg, September 9 at 6:50 with Time magazine photo editor Kira Pollack, and September 10 at 4:20 and then 6:50 with New York Times international photo editor David Furst.
COMPANY TOWN (Natalie Kottke-Masocco & Erica Sardarian, 2016)
22 East 12th St. between University Pl. & Fifth Ave.
Opens Friday, September 8
In Company Town, director, writer, and producer Natalie Kottke-Masocco and codirector, writer, and producer Erica Sardarian investigate the cancer cluster affecting Crossett, Arkansas, which has experienced an alarming number of men, women, and children suffering from the disease. Pastor David Bouie and others firmly place the blame on illegal dumping and sewage wastewater from the local Georgia-Pacific paper and chemical plant, which was purchased by Koch Industries, owned by controversial billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, in 2005. Kottke-Masocco and Sardarian spent nearly four years in Crossett, documenting the town’s fight against big business, an uphill battle all the way as it makes its case to the EPA, the Crossett Water Commission, ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality), the Arkansas Department of Health, and other organizations that are responsible for public health issues. “Koch Industries is one of the all-time champions of using the levers of political influence throughout the nation . . . and, yes, including Arkansas,” says investigative journalist and professor Charles Lewis. Former Obama administration environmental adviser Van Jones adds, “This is happening all across America; this is not just about one town. This is about a whole series of small towns in vulnerable neighborhoods that are being preyed upon by economic power and big polluters. They think they can get away with this. It is a century-defining problem, but it’s going to be resolved by little towns like Crossett fighting their way to some kind of justice.” The fight is led by Pastor Bouie, who refuses to take no for an answer as Crossett, the Forestry Capital of the World, uncovers the abuses by Georgia-Pacific and the “door-to-door cancer” occurring in the town of about 5,500 people, primarily of African-American heritage. Among those residents willing to go on camera and speak out against the plant that is also the financial lifeblood of the community are Jessie Johnson, Hazel Parker, Leona Edwards, young child and cancer sufferer Simone Smith, and former GP contractor Ken Atkins. They are joined by environmental scientist (and folk musician) Barry Sulkin; Elaine Shannon, editor in chief of Environmental Working Group; Huffington Post reporter Paul Blumenthal; research scientist Anthony Samsel; chemist Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network; whistleblower Diki Guice, who only reveals his identity after he loses his job at GP; environmental law and policy expert Heather White; and Ouachita Riverkeeper Cheryl Slavant, who declares, “Everyone who lives in Crossett or works in Crossett is in danger.”
Company Town is one of those documentaries that reveals mind-boggling injustice, where the average person seemingly has no recourse against corporate greed and a government turning its back on them. When regional EPA administrators finally do come to Crossett to check out the residents’ claims firsthand, it is clear that Georgia-Pacific, which did not respond to requests from the filmmakers to participate in the film in any way, was warned in advance and has made some changes that last only a week. Despite evidence that families in eleven of fifteen homes on one block have members who have died from or are battling cancer, the various government organizations don’t find that unusual. Pastor Bouie, who is also a former GP employee and reserve deputy sheriff, is determined to never give up. “How many of us that have worked to keep the company going, keep the company in business, how many of us have to die? How many of our children and family members have to die in order to keep one job at this plant?” he says. And his wife, Barbara Bouie, states the situation very succinctly. “They know what they’re doing is wrong, and they need to correct it.” Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. The film opens September 8 at Cinema Village, with the 8:00 shows Friday and Saturday night followed by Q&As with Kottke-Masocco and Sardarian along with producer Adam Paul Smith and cinematographer, editor, and producer Edgar Sardarian. The Friday night discussion will also feature New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman and members of the cast.
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
566 La Guardia Pl. between Third & Fourth Sts.
September 8-9, $40 (use code JLS1 for 50% discount), 7:30
Formed in 1967 by Joshua White and others, the Joshua Light Show is celebrating fifty years of adding psychedelic visuals to live music with a pair of shows at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. On September 8, the onetime Fillmore resident artists will be working their image-making magic with punk-blues purveyors Boss Hog and the experimental, progressive Dave Harrington Group, while they will join John Colpitts’s Man Forever and electronic music composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith on September 9. Over the years, JLS has stuck to its analog beginnings, using liquid and light, while incorporating digital elements. The current lineup features Alyson Denny, Curtis Godino, Nick Hallett, Seth Kirby, Ana Matronic, Brock Monroe, Gary Panter, Doug Pope, Nica Ross, Briged Smith, Bec Stupak, Jeff Cook, George Stadnik, and White. We caught them in 2012 at Skirball with John Zorn, Lou Reed, Bill Laswell, and Milford Graves and in 2011 at the Hayden Planetarium and were instantly sucked into their groovy world. Tickets are $40 for each show or $60 for both; use code JLS1 to get them for half price.
You might be used to listening to podcasts with headphones on while at your desk or wandering through the city, but now you can see some of the best of these audio shows at the second annual Now Hear This Podcast Festival, taking place at the Javits Center this weekend. More than two dozen shows are participating, featuring such podcastors as Chris Gethard, Phoebe Judge, Jon Lovett, Aaron Mahnke, Sam Roberts, Jon Gabrus & Lauren Lapkus, Larry Wilmore, LeVar Burton, Alex Schmidt, Colt Cabana, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Kulap Vilaysack & Howard Kremer, and Ryback. Day passes for Friday are sold out, but you can still catch those shows with a three-day pass; single-day passes are still available for Saturday and Sunday. According to the website, among the items not allowed in are pets, weapons, and emotional baggage. Be ready to make some tough choices, as several of the best podcasts are scheduled for the same time; below are only some of the highlights.
Friday, September 8
Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People, with Chris Gethard, Fracture Theatre, 7:00
Lovett or Leave It, with Jon Lovett & Friends, Virtue Stage, 7:00
Found, with Davy Rothbard and special guests, Podswag Stage, 7:00
Saturday, September 9
Black on the Air, with Larry Wilmore, Virtue Stage, 11:30 am
Nancy, with Kathy Tu and Tobin Low, Podswag Stage, 1:30
The Flop House, with Dan McCoy, Stuart Wellington and guest flopper Ronny Chieng, Fracture Theatre, 3:30
LeVar Burton Reads, with LeVar Burton and special guests, Virtue Stage, 5:30
Comedy Bang! Bang! with Scott Aukerman and special guests, Stitcher Stage, 7:30
Sunday, September 10
Doughboys, with Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell, Virtue Stage, 11:00 am
The Art of Wrestling, with Colt Cabana and special guests, Mack Weldon Stage, 12:15
StarTalk All-Stars, with Helen Matsos and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Virtue Stage, 1:00
The Weeds (from VOX), with Matt Yglesias, Sarah Kliff, and special guest, Fracture Theatre, 1:00
Conversation with the Big Guy, with Ryback, Pat Buck, and friends, Mack Weldon Stage, 1:30
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Through September 17
“Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends” is almost too much of a good thing, a massive MoMA retrospective of the interdisciplinary artist who died in 2008 at the age of eighty-two. The exhausting exhibition consists of more than 250 works, highlighting his collaborations while celebrating the vast nature of his practice. “Oh, I love collaborating, because art can be a really lonely business, if you’re really just working from your ego,” he says in an old interview on the audio guide. The show follows the Texas native from his Black Mountain College years through his time in Italy and North Africa, from his early combines and classical-influenced pieces to performances, silkscreens, objects, “Experiments in Art and Technology” (E.A.T.), and more. Many of his greatest hits are here, including “Bed,” “Monogram,” “Canyon,” “Gift for Apollo,” and his illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, alongside collaborations with Jasper Johns, John Cage, Jean Tinguely, Willem de Kooning, Susan Weil, Brice Marden, Sturtevant, Alex Hay, and more. Among the most unusual works is the bubbling “Mud Muse” created with Carl Adams, George Carr, Lewis Ellmore, Frank Lahaye, and Jim Wilkinson. And most entertaining is Rauschenberg’s involvement in the dance world, making sets for and even performing in pieces by Paul Taylor, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and Laurie Anderson, Harry Shunk and Janos Kender, and others, some filmed by Charles Atlas. The exhibition is supplemented with works by such Rauschenberg contemporaries as Aaron Siskind, Cy Twombly, Lucinda Childs, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Niki de Saint Phalle, and Robert Whitman. Meanwhile, the audio guide includes contributions from Yvonne Rainer, Calvin Tompkins, Weil, Marden, Brown, Virginia Dwan, Atlas, Julie Martin, and Rauschenberg’s son, Christopher. So how does one make sense of it all? MoMA is hosting a series of talks and performances to help sort everything out. The exhibition continues through September 17; the below “gallery experiences” are free with museum admission, with no advance RSVP required. (Only the September 12 “Dante Among Friends” performance requires paid ticketing.)
Wednesday, September 6, 11:30 & 3:30
“Dance among Friends: Robert Rauschenberg’s Collaborations with Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham, and Paul Taylor,” featuring Changeling, Three Epitaphs, Tracer, You Can See Us, and excerpts from other works, Sculpture Garden
“Robert Rauschenberg’s Process,” with Lauren Kaplan
Wednesday, September 6, 11:30
Thursday, September 7, 1:30
Wednesday, September 13, 1:30
Thursday, September 14, 11:30 & 1:30
“No One Is an Island,” with Kerry Downey
Thursday, September 7, 1:30
“Rauschenberg Among Friends,” with Elisabeth Bardt-Pellerin
Saturday, September 9, 11:30
Sunday, September 17, 1:30
“100 Ways to Make a Picture,” with Petra Pankow
Sunday, September 10, 11:30
Monday, September 11, 11:30
“A Bit of This and That: Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines,” with Jane Royal
Tuesday, September 12
“Collaborators, Friends, Lovers,” with Tamara Kostianovsky, 11:30
“Dante among Friends,” with Robin Coste Lewis and Kevin Young responding in music and poetry to Rauschenberg’s Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno, curated and hosted by Terrance McKnight, $5-$15, 7:00