As the world bid farewell to another year, it was revealed that some animal species have been declared extinct.
According to BirdLife International, the insect-eating forest bird po’ouli, the cryptic treehunter, alagoas foliage-gleaner and spix’s macaw have all ceased to exist based on lack of confirmed sightings.
They join a list of previously identified species – including the vaquita, northern white rhino and two giraffe subspecies – in danger of becoming extinct.
Humans, unfortunately, are much to blame for the increasing depletion of animal populations due to excessive and uncontrolled hunting and our neglect of the environment.
As this latest development sinks in, a new movie attempts to explore human-animal relationships in a positive light.
Mia and the White Lion, due for release in the UAE on 3rd January, tells the story of an 11-year-old girl from London who moves to Africa. With her parents breeding lions, a young Mia soon develops a bond with a white lion cub.
As the parents become aware of the growing friendship, they become increasingly worried about what will happen when the cub grows up, and decide to sell him to hunters. When Mia finds out, she sets out to help her lion friend escape to a reserve.
The film was inspired by director Gilles de Maistre’s trip to South Africa where he met a family in the lion breeding business, supposedly for conservation purposes. He later learned that the lions were being sold for hunting purposes.
Setting about making his film, Gilles opted to use a real lion instead of resorting to CGI technology.
“I think it’s the first time anything like this has been attempted: telling the tale of a love story between a wild animal and apex predator, and a little girl, with no special effects.”
To bring his idea to fruition, he sought the help of Kevin Richardson, dubbed ‘The Lion Whisperer’.
“‘This is going to be complicated, unless you’re prepared to film the movie over three years, using a very young lion cub’,” Gilles recalled Kevin telling him. “‘You’ll need to build a bond between the two and shoot the movie using the same lion throughout. But that’s impossible, you won’t have the time.’ And I replied: ‘Let’s do it anyway!’”
Remarkably, actress Daniah de Villiers, who plays Mia, and the lion cub, named Thor, did develop a special bond during filming, which translates on camera.
“We developed a working method that’s completely different from how we tend to do things in the industry, approaching the lion as an actual actor rather than an animal we needed to tame.”
The project has not been spared from criticism though. Wildlife organisations, including Captive Wildlife Watchdog (formerly BJWT Watchdog), have been closely monitoring the film during production and filming, citing serious concerns over the welfare of the lion and the exploitation of a wild animal for entertainment purposes. But Gilles assured the public that the crew exercised caution to ensure the welfare of everyone involved, including the jungle predator.
While owning a lion as a pet is certainly not the message, ultimately, Gilles is hoping to demonstrate how humans can co-exist harmoniously with animals by giving them the respect they fully deserve.
“We built a relationship with the lion from the moment he was born. It was more about creating an intimate relationship, fostering love, than training. And that gave our lion the confidence he needed to feel comfortable on set with our actors.”
Also starring: Langley Kirkwood, Mélanie Laurent and Ryan Mac Lennan
Running time: 100 mins
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