For Trophy Filmmakers, ‘The Elephant Hunt Was the Hardest’

Philip Glass was supposed to be a villain in Trophy, a documentary that originally was conceived as a take-down of the proliferation of big-game hunting.

Then directors Shaul Schwartz and Christina Clusiau visited the Safari Club International convention in Las Vegas, with more than 25,000 attendees — many of them like Glass, a Texas rancher whose lifelong ambition involves killing elusive elephants, lions, and rhinos.

“The industry just opened up to us. At that point, we understood that this was much more complicated than we originally thought,” Clusiau said during the recent Dallas International Film Festival. “We started to question whether it was so black-and-white.”

Besides Glass, the film’s primary subjects include John Hume, who operates a South African ranch where he breeds rhinos, then shoots them with tranquilizers to saw off their horns. He argues that doing so extends the lives of the creatures by making them worthless to potential poachers, yet his exact motives remain cloudy.

Then there’s Chris Moore, a conservation advocate in Zimbabwe whose efforts are subsidized by big-game hunters. His rationale is that it’s better to lose a few animals through controlled hunts than to allow species to become decimated by rampant poaching. As with Hume, he’s been both hailed and criticized.

The New York-based filmmakers continued their research by talking with outfitters and conservationists in Africa who had different perspectives on how wild-animal species should be protected or preserved.

They were more than a year into production when worldwide controversy erupted about the killing of Cecil the lion by a Minnesota dentist on a bowhunting safari in Zimbabwe. That began to restrict their access to some hesitant sources, one of which suggested they contact Glass.

“Philip was the one individual who, from the very beginning, wanted us to…

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