A lion limping after catching its paw in a trap. An elephant wounded by a gunshot wound. Felled teak wood trees leaking sap. While this feature-length film doesn’t shy away from showing the ecological effects of poaching, that is not where its main attention lies. There are plenty of sweeping drone shots of jungle-filled canyons, wide waterways and hazy plains — but the featured character in On the Front Line isn’t the landscape, or even the wildlife. It’s the people working to protect it. These are the rangers of the nearly one-million-acre Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, and their job is to stand between the wilderness and “this human madness,” as one ranger puts it in the film’s opening scene.
Leaders in the park are recruiting more rangers, and cameras follow along as the new recruits are put through a two-week recruitment process that looks more like boot camp. They run, climb and carry heavy loads. Some of the applicants are women, the first time in park history they’ll be allowed to try to become rangers.
Poaching has killed a third of the lions in the park, according to conservationists. Wire traps litter the landscape, catching any animal unlucky enough to wander into their path. But the film acknowledges that illegal hunting, just like conservation, is a deeply human activity. The rangers nod to the economic reasons a person might turn to crime without validating the act itself.
The black market for poached trees and animal products is largely driven by economies and buyers outside Mozambique, but it’s the locals who are pitted against one another. During recruitment, a ranger asks an applicant what he would do if he came across his father poaching in the park. In fact, former poachers are permitted to become rangers, as a gesture towards rehabilitation — if their motives for applying are believed to be pure. On the Front Line mourns the nature that has already been lost, but also celebrates the people dedicating their lives to protecting it.
Not a part of the 2020 Virtual festival, will be scheduled for future IWFF Presents 2020 monthly screenings at The Roxy Theater.