Playing in the U.S. Documentary competition of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 91 minutes; in English, and Russian and Hindi with subtitles. No more festival screenings scheduled.
The tiger, revered as a god and killed to near extinction, is the compelling and elusive star of director Ross Kauffman’s “Tigerland,” a look at people in Russia and India who risk life and limb to protect these magnificent creatures.
The tiger’s place in ancient cultures is well-documented, with the animal appearing in ancient cave paintings, as well as art from China, Japan, the Middle East and other places. It’s also a part of pop culture, as a quick montage that includes Shere Khan in “The Jungle Book,” Tony the Tiger, Winnie the Pooh’s buddy Tigger and Katy Perry’s “Roar” demonstrates.
Kauffman tracks two complementary stories of people fighting the good fight to protect tigers. One is historic, Indian activist and preservationist Kailash Sankhala, who urged the Indian government to ban the widespread and lucrative practice of hunting tigers. The other is Pavel Fomenko, a preservationist in Russia’s Far East, who braves snow and possible maulings to keep alive the 540 or so Siberian tigers still in the wild.
The Russian story is by far the most interesting, in part because Fomenko is such a charismatic figure, a tough Russian bear with a soft spot for these magnificent creatures. (One can easily picture Gerard Butler playing him in a bad movie about him.) Sankhala died in 1994, but the film shows his grandson, Amit Sankhala, and the family carrying on the legacy.
Together, the stories in “Tigerland” show not just the efforts to keep a beautiful animal alive, but demonstrate the power of individuals to change the world.