Anthony Armentano, Global Animal
Filmed in the aftermath of a law banning all animal circuses throughout Bolivia, Lion Ark follows a group of activists from all areas of expertise, as they combine efforts to confiscate and transport 25 abused circus lions to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
The 2013 documentary’s director, Tim Phillips, is the Vice President of Animal Defenders International (ADI), the organization that helped push Bolivia’s circus banning legislation through in 2010. The cast of activists is rounded out with ADI President Jan Creamer, Executive Director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary Pat Craig, ADI ambassador and CSI star Jorja Fox, as well as game show host and animal advocate Bob Barker.
Lion Ark begins with the organization’s return to Bolivia. Despite the law’s implementation, the Bolivian government and ADI have found that a number of circuses continue to illegally imprison and employ animals in their cruel industry. ADI takes the responsibility of tracking down these illegal circuses and rescuing the caged animals.
The film incorporates undercover footage depicting a variety of animals abused by trainers and circus workers. The footage is infuriating and rather disturbing to watch, but the filmmakers use it brilliantly to show the type of people they’re up against.
The first few circuses the group visits prove to be relatively cooperative and hand over their lions without much resistance. As ADI progresses on their rescue mission, other circuses prove to be more difficult, even threatening violence. Nevertheless, the organization’s determination is impressive.
At one point, an ADI operative must infiltrate one of the circuses as a clown. Understandably, cameras cannot follow him into the circus; otherwise they’d be putting his life and the entire operation at risk. Nevertheless, the film does a remarkable job of emoting the hard work, passion, and love behind ADI’s motives.
The most informative aspects of the film turn out to be the most rewarding as well. Above all else, Lion Ark does an amazing job of exploring the torment these circus lions have gone through. Most of the big cats are confined to desperately inadequate cages and have been raised in their own filth. One lion in particular, Campeon, has developed dwarfed feet brought on by the confinement of his undersized and overpopulated cage.
Jan Creamer discusses the psychological effects imprisonment has on the animals, and the film does a wonderful job depicting their symptoms. Shots of the lions pacing back and forth, and documentation of the animals’ personal journey, show the tragic state of circus animals’ conditions.
The lions’ tragic lives spent in captivity makes their redemption that much sweeter. One silver lining of the film occurs when a group of lions are introduced to hay. ADI likens circus cages to living in your bathroom for your entire life—it’s simply just a plain, flat space. For the lions, the hay acts as a brand new sensory experience, and it’s a beautiful sight to see.
Lion Ark documents an amazing journey for those in search of a passionate story, or an uplifting tale. More importantly, the film may prove to be a first hand account of history itself. After the events of the film, 20 countries have either fully or partially banned animal circuses in their nations, with legislation to do the same currently developing in the U.S.
The film was completed on June 1st of 2013 , but look for Lion Ark to hit the film festival circuit in the late summer or fall of this year. Details on future screenings, and other information can be found at the film’s website, www.lionarkthemovie.com.
Watch the video clip below: