Directed by: Ulrich Seidl | 91 minutes | documentary
What do you get when you mix almost pure observation with hunting? With this in mind, director Ulrich Seidl set out and that led to the documentary ‘Safari’. In the film, Seidl follows German and Austrian tourists who go hunting in Africa (the exact location is not clear). Nowhere is the maker speaking and the visual storytelling style is also observational. In short: all the ingredients for an objective approach to the phenomenon of ‘hunting’. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There is indeed a message in ‘Safari’ and what Seidl does phenomenally is to ensure that the characters in the film make his point. Because is hunting at all justifiable and if so how?
The documentary has two major parts. The first is tracking the hunt and the second consists of conversations with those involved. When following, the viewer is taken into the process of “stalking”; tracking and approaching prey. That turns out to be an exciting process for the hunters and that feeling is also well reflected. But this does not lead to sympathy for the fighters. In fact, it feels exaggerated and out of place to see the hunters’ reactions after shooting (for example) a giraffe. Because imagine what this does to the hunter’s nerves? It quite contrasts with the fate of the giraffe. And so the film is full of contrasts that turn out badly for everyone involved. For the hunters stand before the pole and the beasts; well, they just die. Also an overweight Austrian fighter. At first, he’s bragging about how much it costs to shoot various animals. Then he can only be seen in his gunnery hut where he drinks beer, burps and falls asleep.
Seidl uses similar tricks when talking to the characters. For example, whole conversations are focused on justifying hunting, but it comes across as a need of the hunters themselves to be able to justify it. Apparently they are also aware of the intrinsic values that they are trampling. The best example that Seidl pulls out is to have the owner of the hunting parties start a story that starts in the vein of “I’m not a racist, but…”. If there was any moral credibility left at all, it vanished from that point on.
The visual form of a tableau vivant also works well in this documentary. People are exhibited for what they are and in this case not much good remains. As a viewer, you are also directly looked at and you witness a few terrible scenes up close.
Finally, to answer the question at the beginning of this review: ‘Safari’ is a wonderful observation of the hunt, which does not look badly objectively but also actively chooses a side.