After the death of Cecil the Lion, it’s become clear that public opinion of big-game hunting is at an all-time low. So Safari is a timely documentary about the reviled activity that yields many fascinating insights.
The camera is an almost invisible presence, making no explicit judgments as European tourists roam African plains for their desired animal. It immediately becomes clear that these people are paying not just for permission to hunt, but also for skilled huntsmen to perform the hard work of stalking the animals. All the tourists have to do is pull the trigger. They are paying for the illusion of being a hunter, as well as the drug-like high that comes from killing an animal.
Louis Theroux usually lets his subjects hang themselves with their own words, but director Ulrich Seidl does so with long stretches of silence. It makes the act of big-game hunting look like a profoundly awkward experience. A scene that the film often revisits is of a tourist sipping beer in a watchtower while the professional sits silently looking a little bit irritated.
As the documentary progresses, Seidl makes a surprising, but apt, link between big-game hunting and white privilege. Although some of the white subjects put forward some of their backwards views about race, this privilege is best seen through the visuals. A good example would be the shot of a rich white kid watching black men skin the zebra he just killed.
Safari resists an angry denunciation of big game hunting; something the public would clamour for. Instead Seidl allows the activity to condemn itself through unrehearsed footage and long, painfully awkward silences. Those who can stomach the scenes of slaughter, however, can find a unique perspective on hunting.
DIRECTOR: Ulrich Seidl
WRITERS: Veronika Franz, Ulrich Seidl
SYNOPSIS: Africa. In the wild expanses , where bushbucks, impalas, zebras, gnus and other creatures graze by the thousands, they are on holiday. German and Austrian hunting tourists drive through the bush, lie in wait, stalk their prey. They shoot, sob with excitement and pose before the animals they have bagged. A vacation movie about killing, a movie about human nature.