Full Frame Review: Kifaru

Kifaru takes us deep into the life of the last remaining male northern white rhino named Sudan. The former zoo resident was returned to Kenya along with his daughter Najin and granddaughter Fatu when they became the last of their kind. But the family doesn’t roam freely in the jungle. They have a special space dedicated to them at Ol Pejeta Conservancy. They have caretakers and security guards to see to their needs and protect them from poachers. The documentary explores not only what it takes for them to survive, but introduces us to the three men who become their best friends.

Jacob, James, and JoJo are the three rangers who form an incredible bond with Sundan and his offspring. Because of the nature of their work, the rangers remain on the conservancy for 10 months out of the year. They feed, medicate, walk and even cover the rhinos in mud. When visitors come to the park, they give presentations. They are the voice of the rhinos. They go beyond that when an abandoned rhino baby arrives at the camp. They know that their fate is tied to the rhinos because they fear that when there’s no rhinos, there will be no need for them to work at the park. This big problem is that Sudan is extra old so there’s little chance of him breeding. There is talk of in vitro fertilization and cloning to keep the species continuing. The documentary follows the three men off the park on their rare days off. We get a view of life in city and how they interact with people when rhinos aren’t around. JoJo has the bigger outside story since his wife is having a difficult pregnancy.

The film and the caretakers do not demonize the poacher. It’s pointed out that the people living in that part of Kenya are extremely poor. The amount of money that can be brought for a single rhino horn could change their fortunes like winning the lottery in America. If anyone is completely the bad guy, it’s those in China and other places willing to pay that small fortune for the horn.

Kifaru gets extremely intimate with the rhinos and the caretakers. When Sudan’s health takes a turn for the worse, the emotions are raw on the screen. There’s a connection with both the rhino and the people. Director David Hambridge and producer-editor Andrew Harrison Barnes have created a nature movie as magnificent as a rhino. Kifaru won both the Audience Award and Environmental Award at Full Frame.

After the screening, JoJo came out to talk with the audience. He was asked what could people do to help with the plight of the rhino in the wake of China no longer banning rhino horns from being bought and imported into the country. He spoke of how when one of the caretakers went to Hong Kong on an outreach mission that the school kids were under the belief that the horns just fall off the rhinos like a snakes shed skins or we clip away our fingernails. Once they were informed that the poachers killed the rhinos and sawed off the horns, the kids were horrified and crying. The thing to do is remind people around the world that a rhino horn means there’s a dead rhino somewhere. He also gave a promising update about the project to keep Sudan’s lineage going with the help of science. David Hambridge mentioned that he has been given access to cover the project so there should be a sequel to Kifaru in the future.

Kifaru was reviewed at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina.

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