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Big Hearts for Big Cats

Lion rescue doc screens tonight at Stateside benefit

By Jessi Cape, 10:45AM, Sun. May. 25

Big Hearts for Big Cats

Laws mean little if not enforced, a particularly stark reality in the case of abuse and neglect. Lion Ark, screening tonight at Stateside at the Paramount, is a firsthand account of the high stakes mission to rescue 25 African lions and a handful of other critters.

Bolivia passed a law in 2009 banning live animals in traveling circuses, but investigations revealed that many animals were still being held captive in hellacious conditions.

Winner of numerous awards on the festival circuit, the film takes a slightly different approach from standard animal rights docs, with its focus set on the forward motion of Operation Lion Ark instead of high-drama heartstring-plucking. It’s justice-seeking, but, refreshingly, the documentary doesn’t harp on violence. The plight of the majestic beasts intrinsically instills empathy from the viewer and easily conveys the danger and pain involved. Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips, the filmmakers and founders of Animal Defenders International (ADI), traveled to Bolivia in 2010, and with a team, attempted the seize and rescue of the big cats.

Across eight circuses, located in remote areas of Bolivia, lions were held, often starving and worm-infested, in closet-sized cages with rusted-shut doors – a sure indication their owners never intended to let them out. Sometimes crowded in with several others, sometimes in solitary confinement for decades, the animals’ psychological devastation is evident in the footage, which takes a see-for-yourself approach. There really is no need to explain the brutality; it’s in plain sight. Some of the animals pace incessantly, some are terrified and vicious, making the crusaders’ job especially precarious. In preparation for the almost 5,000 mile flight to a wildlife rescue in Colorado, the team confronts angry and aggressive owners and difficult travel and transport. Lion Ark also shows extensive footage of the work to provide veterinary care while constructing temporary holding facilities and organize efforts. Quirky and down-to-earth moments pepper the film, making it surprisingly enjoyable to watch. Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” plays to snarling lions; big cats – from cubs to elders, and all named - roll in the hay and finally learn to play; Bob Barker and his tiny microphone also play a heartwarming role in the mission.

Sunday night, Creamer and Phillips will be in attendance for a Q&A. The pair will also give a report on their recent investigative trip to Peru, where a protective law has been passed, but again, needs enforcement. All the money raised during the event, which also features a VIP gala, goes to the ADI rescue of 35 lions from Peruvian circuses. Reportedly, Austin’s Different Rhythm Foundation, The Austin Zoo & Sanctuary and other Austin animal protection groups are in support. Other guests expected include Ed Asner and other actors, musicians, dignitaries, and The Colonel, “Hero Dog of the Year,” whose story launched the program Train a Dog Save a Warrior. This organization provides service dog therapy for wounded and traumatized veterans, a poignant addition to the guest list on Memorial Day Weekend.

For more details and ticket information, see here

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