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The New York Times Review: ‘Ivory. A Crime Story,’ or the Plight of African Elephants

IVORY. A CRIME STORY
Directed by Sergey Yastrzhembsky
Documentary, Crime, Drama
1h 27m
By KEN JAWOROWSKI NOV. 3, 2016
Source: The New York Times


A pile of seized tusks in Kenya, in “Ivory. A Crime Story,” directed by Sergey Yastrzhembsky and opening on Friday.

The animals seem more humane than people in “Ivory. A Crime Story.” This roughly constructed yet passionate documentary isn’t shy about showing the massacre of elephants or about calling out the groups implicit in the killings. That bluntness and courage usually overrides the uneven filmmaking.

African elephants are being killed at a frightening rate — one every 15 minutes, we’re told — and their population has declined by the hundreds of thousands in recent decades. While some are butchered for food in poor areas of the continent, a major reason for this slaughter is ivory, and there’s a main destination for it.

“We heard one word repeated by everyone we spoke to — China,” a voice-over says. Other countries and groups are also chastised for their roles in ivory smuggling, including the Vatican. The director, Sergey Yastrzhembsky, and his team are determined to name names and even assist in a sting operation in which a suspected illegal ivory seller is later arrested.

Mr. Yastrzhembsky’s fervor, however, also leads him to overfill the screen with footage from dozens of locations, from the African bush to Chinese shops, cargo ships and conservation conventions. It’s a lot to take in, with tenuous connections between scenes. The portentous narration, too, could use a good editor and some variety in its consistently ominous tone.

Still, this story remains crucial no matter how it’s told. The bloodiest scenes are difficult to watch — seeing one elephant shot and moaning as it’s hacked with machetes by poachers is extraordinarily brutal. Mr. Yastrzhembsky hasn’t chosen a pleasant topic, and to his credit, he treats it with the harshness it deserves.


On Friday, November 4th, 'Ivory. A crime story' opens in New York. From November 4 to 10 there will be 5 shows per day, staring Noon to 10 pm in Cinema Village, 22 East 12th Street New York, NY 10003.