This involving documentary about poaching in Kenya opens with an ominous shot of smoky flames reaching skywards across an African plain. Powerful and provocative, it hints at the environmental themes of a film that never settles for easy moral judgements.
Our two protagonists are X, a cocky ivory dealer, and Asan, a young wildlife ranger who loves his badly paid job but finds himself in trouble with his pregnant wife when the government falls behind with his wages. The wrinkle? The men are cousins. If Asan catches X killing an elephant, he will have to shoot him (and presumably have some explaining to do back home).
It’s a thorny moral scenario that director Jon Kasbe blurs further by showing these two men united by a common goal: to do whatever they can to support their young families. As time passes and money becomes scarcer, the choices they make bring them closer and closer together.
Kasbe spent four dangerous years making ‘When Lambs Become Lions’ and he has been rewarded with some thrilling moments. His cameras take in an elephant hunt with poachers and they are smuggled into cars to catch nocturnal deals with ivory buyers. The revelations and dramatic fireworks that ensue are startling to witness. Taking those risks has paid off in a doc that feels more like a thriller. And the twist at the end is a doozy.