Review of PIFF's "Watching the Rhino"

 We're heading into the final phase of the Portland International Film Festival, which closes this coming Saturday, the 21st. Two of tonight's films are a fair representative of the scope of PIFF. First is Milking the Rhino (6:30 at the Broadway 3), David E Simpson's documentary about how Africans in Kenya are dealing with dangerous wild animals. Also on hand is Sugar, a drama by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (who will be in attendance tonight), who also did the respected Half Nelson, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Sugar (6 PM at the Whitsell), which I haven't seen, is about the immigrant experience, in the form of a talented baseball player. This film might be of special interest to viewers who have heard the news story about the two javelin throwers from India who won a baseball throwing TV contest and ended up in America on the Pittsburg Pirates farm team, knowing nothing, absolutely nothing, about the game of baseball. 


Milking the Rhino, which I have seen, is a fascinating account of the economic and ecological conflicts in Kenya and Namibia. Essentially it comes down to this. In the old days, if a dangerous rhino or elephant were on the loose, the local residents would simply kill it. But the current global consciousness is pro animal, pro conservation. This interferes, for example, with the efforts of the Massai to harvest their land, since current conservation laws prevent them from maintaining their ecological and economic balance. Rich white eco-tourists are also a significant source of income for some entrepreneurs, but these new business practices clash with ancient native practices. Simpson includes footage of an eco-lodge owner trying to convince a village to stop killing rhinos to illustrate this conflict, and the director's approach is balanced, not evidently taking any sides while being fascinated by the conflicts as a whole. Simpson also tracks the effects of a drought in Namibia, caused partially by formerly nomadic tribes settling down around mechanized water sources. In all Milking the Rhino is a beautifully photographed doc about a beautiful place in trouble, in which there are no easy answers, just a lot of complicated questions. 


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