Tigerland

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Tigerland Movie Poster Image
Insightful but intense documentary about tiger conservation.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 91 minutes

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Positive Messages

Promotes conservation of critically endangered tigers (100 years ago, there were 100,000+ tigers; now, fewer than 4,000). Experts explain why world needs to be aware of how illegal poaching/hunting can lead to tiger extinction. Promotes curiosity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Pawel Fomenko in Russia and the late Kailash Sankhala (and his descendants) in India are portrayed as ultimate tiger champions: conservationists who believe in protecting wild tigers from extinction. They work(ed) with other naturalists, organizations to lobby and plead on big cats' behalf.

Violence

A few sequences have levels of suspense, tension that might be overwhelming for young/sensitive kids. In one case, a conservationist is mauled by a mother tiger while tending to her cubs. He survives but has facial deformities, scars. Scenes describe how tiger was stealing town's dogs to feed her cubs. Conservationists have to use tranquilizer gun to control, move tigers. Dead tiger is autopsied; conservationist pets its removed skin. Several scenes of Indian art and photography depict tiger hunting, tigers attacking other animals and humans. Wildlife footage of tiger hunting, eating gazelle.

Sex
Language

Several instances of Russian cursing subtitled in English, mostly "f--k" and "f---ing" (nonsexual).

Consumerism

Toyota.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters smoke cigarettes and drink in the Russian-set segments, both in photos and current footage.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tigerland, directed by Academy Award-winning director Ross Kauffman, is a wildlife conservation documentary about the critically endangered tigers of India and Far East Russia. Unlike many nature documentaries, which are aimed at or appropriate for families with younger kids, this one is better for older viewers, since there's quite a bit of swearing (mostly variants of "f--k" in English subtitles), as well as candid depictions of dead tigers, tigers being hunted, and even the aftermath of a gruesome tiger attack on a human (who survived, but with obvious craniofacial anomalies). Drinking and smoking are also shown. But for those viewers who can handle the mature content, this is compelling, educational film that raises awareness and promotes curiosity.

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What's the story?

Academy-Award winning filmmaker Ross Kauffman's (Born into Brothels) wildlife documentary TIGERLAND follows tiger conservation efforts in Far East Russia and India, two areas of the world best known for tigers. In Far East Russia, the film introduces viewers to Pavel Fomenko -- the World Wildlife Federation's head of Rare Species Conservation for the region -- and his first love: his country's endangered Siberian tiger population. In India, the story focuses on the late Kailash Sankhala, who died at age 69 in 1994 and is considered the "Tiger Grandfather" of the country's Bengal tiger. Fomenko and Sankhala (whose descendants continue to run a tiger foundation he started) are both alpha-male conservationists completely dedicated to the cause. Sankhala was willing to take on the upper crust's love of tiger hunting, while Fomenko continues to rescue tigers despite nearly being killed by one.

Is it any good?

This is a fascinating, engaging documentary about conservation efforts in two parts of the world with the most remaining endangered tigers. Kauffman could have easily focused on either of Tigerland's two central stories, and he occasionally moves between the two when you'd prefer more of one -- particularly about Fomenko, who's still living despite a horrific, disfiguring encounter with a tigress in 2018. But the documentary manages to make both subjects -- Fomenko and Sankhala -- equally enthralling. Sankhala died 25 years ago, so his biography is told through letters, photographs, and interviews with his grandson and great-grandson.

There's no question that Fomenko's story arc is the more dramatic. While Sankhala's Tiger Trust is touchingly still run by his descendants, Fomenko was literally mauled by a tiger. He and his team had removed the big cat from a forest that was too close to a rural community (the tigress was hunting local farm dogs for her cubs), where she likely would have ended up getting shot. Later, after the men also rescued her cubs, the tiger mom leaped through an enclosure during a routine medical checkup on the cubs; less than a minute later, she had ripped open Fomenko's face. That Fomenko not only returned to work but continues to wax poetic about the beauty of the tiger is utterly remarkable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the amount of strong language in Tigerland. Is reading a curse word in subtitles different from hearing/understanding it? Why or why not?

  • Talk about the violence in the movie. Does wildlife violence impact viewers differently than human violence does? How about when the animal violence affects a human?

  • How would you describe the movie's message? Do you agree that helping endangered species is an important conservation priority?

  • Do you consider anyone a role model in the documentary? How do the tiger conservationists display empathy and curiosity?

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