White Rhi-no!

Performing Native American folk music before the start of “The Last Animals” are, from left, Annie Humphrey, Wade and Quintin Fernandez. Ariana Hones photo

by Ariana Hones

What invokes dialogue?

What inspires action?

These questions served as guide for the creation of “The Last Animals,” the premiere film of the inaugural Freeland Film Festival last week Friday in Green Lake.

Covering four years of research and videography, documentary maker and director Kate Brooks tracked animal conservationists, scientists and welfare advocates as they combatted wildlife poachers and the international crime rings responsible for the killings of elephants and rhinos for ivory.

Traveling across both Africa and Asia, her underground work captured the constant battle that is being fought to solve this international crisis of animal endangerment and extinction.

As she interviewed and captured images of illegal ivory trading, Brooks also followed the lives of the last five northern white rhinos on the planet.

By the end of the documentary, two had died.

Following the documentary, screening audience questions probed Brooks for what kind of action can be done to prevent further eradication of elephants and rhinos.

Brooks spoke to the growing need of reaching out to local representatives and writing letters of support to ban ivory sales within the United States.

Currently, only eight states have implemented ivory bans.

Wisconsin is not one of them.

Additionally, Brooks spoke to the need to not participate in the trade networks of ivory and how consumers must be part of the solution in not purchasing ivory products.

“Get involved locally,” she urged. “Get involved with international legislation, create general awareness and support rangers and investigations. Without animals having humans be their advocate they don’t have a chance, so it is important to defend them.”

Although “The Last Animals” focused broadly on the international level of ivory trade, it noted that the United States still plays a significant role in wildlife poaching.

“The United States is one of the top importers of wildlife products in the world. It is integral to get involved,” said Steve Galster, Green Lake natiev, founder of international nonprofit Freeland and director of the Freeland Film Festival.

“This is a U.S. problem too,” Brooks echoed. “It has to cross the political divide.”

“At the end of this day this is about demand. Big picture: don’t buy [ivory] and tell people not to buy it,” Galster said.

As the Freeland Film Festival works to educate and inspire viewers around issues of wildlife trafficking and human slavery, “The Last Animals” displayed an often unheard narrative: that if people don’t get involved in combatting international ivory trade and the elimination of elephants and rhinos, humans will soon be the last animals left.

Galster concluded the evening with words that spoke to the importance he saw in creating the film festival, showing “The Last Animals” and engaging in communal dialogue with people that had come from around the world to experience this event.

“This [film] is why it is so important to have storytellers — to bring voice to the voiceless.”

Although not officially released, Brooks hopes that “The Last Animals” will be distributed in fall of 2018.