Arts & Events

Unfair Game: The Politics of Poaching

Gar Smith
Friday April 22, 2016 - 04:51:00 PM

One night only, April 26 at Oakland's New Parkway Theater

With the latest Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony behind us, Unfair Game: The Politics of Poaching, is a perfect follow-up. The film is the work of Bay Area filmmaker John Antonelli (whose collaboration with Robert Redford has provided the visually moving "profiles" that honor the Goldman Prizewinners).

Antonelli's new film on the troubling practice of wildlife poaching and the illegal ivory trade in Africa, documents the "disastrous results when wildlife takes priority over indigenous people's land rights, human rights, and their very survival" by following two Goldman Environmental Prize winners—Thuli Makama in Swaziland and Hammer Simwinga in Zambia.

The April 26 screening, hosted by The Oakland Institute, will include a 30-minute post-screening Q&A with Tom Bennigson (Open Heart Safari and the Tikva Grassroots Empowerment Fund) and Marc Tognotti (The Institute of the Commons) to discuss issues of conservation and human rights.



Set in the wilds of Swaziland and Zambia, this complex saga spans several decades and follows two parallel stories. Under Swaziland's militarized response to the poaching industry, Thuli Makama's friends and neighbors are being tortured and sometimes killed, merely for being suspected of elephant poaching. The people who are getting killed are not just organized bands of poachers but desperately poor villagers as well. Meanwhile, in Zambia, a more enlightened form of engagement is turning people away from traditional hunting and the lure of the riches offered by illegal poaching. In Zambia, Goldman Prizewinner Hammer Simwinga succeeded in creating a peaceful alternative, demonstrating how a transition to growing healthy, renewable crops can improve village health and create new markets that promise greater prosperity. 

The New Parkway, it is a community-run theater that offers important films along with good food, cold beer and comfortable couches instead of typical movie-house row seating. The Parkway also prides itself on maintaining a strong commitment to progressive labor and environmental standards. 

When: Tuesday April 26, 7-9pm 

Where: The New Parkway Theater, 474 24th Street, Oakland (between Telegraph and Broadway) 

Cost: $10. 

Advance tickets available online here


In October 2015, the Planet attended a screening of Unfair Game as part of the 18th UN Association Film Festival. During the post-screening discussion, an audience member challenged director Antoneli to respond to a New Yorker article ("The Hunted") that accused one of the principals in his film—Mark Owens, co-founder of the North Luangwa Conservation Project in Mpika, Zambia—of complicity in the shooting death of a poacher. 

According to my six-month-old notes, Antonelli revealed that he had discovered article while he was in the process of editing his film. Upon investigating, Antonelli learned that there had been an ABC television film crew in the region pursuing a documentary on poaching. There was pressure to find and film a poacher in the act of plundering wildlife. And there had been a killing that took the life of a suspected poacher. In fact, ABC's cameras were rolling when the shots were fired. However, contrary to the essay in The New Yorker, Mark Owens was not only not responsible, he was not even in the area. 

Seeking a correction, Antonelli called The New Yorker to speak with the reporter. The reporter refused to return the call. Antonelli then wrote a long letter to The New Yorker pointing out the factual errors in the story. Antonelli said he subsequently discovered that the reporter, Jeffrey Goldberg, was the same writer who had earlier spread the Bush-Cheney administration's lies about the presence of WMDs in Iraq. 

The New Yorker reportedly agreed to run Antonelli's letter—but only if it was agreed that no one would pursue legal action against the magazine for the error. 

2007 Goldman Prize winner Hammerskjoeld Simwinga 

Here is Antonelli's 2007 profile of Goldman Prize winner Hammer Simwinga 


For more information, visit