<em>The Last Lions</em>

DYING OUT: During the Santa Barbara International Film Festival I chanced upon Dereck and Beverly Joubert, just in from Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where they filmed The Last Lions.

They aren’t movie stars, although Beverly looks like one. Their National Geographic documentary is a stunningly beautiful, powerful story about a mother lion’s fight to protect her cubs. But the underlying message is sad.

The world’s lions are dying out and being killed off, the Jouberts told me over breakfast Saturday. In my lifetime, the lion population has drastically dwindled from about 450,000 to the present 20,000. If I live 10 more years, lions may have all but vanished from the earth.

Dereck and Beverly Joubert
Sue De Lapa

If that’s not bad enough, “We are losing open space at an alarming rate,” Beverly told me. Loss of habitat is one reason for the decline of the lion, along with poaching, pesticides, shooting by livestock herders and other factors, naturalists say.

To make The Last Lions and their other wildlife films, they spend up to two years in the bush in a tent, shooting 18 hours a day, then return to their base camp to download their work. “It’s hard work,” she said.

Their film is so remarkable that you feel that the lions — tough females, threatening males, and dangerous buffalo herds — are just across the street, but it’s all done with long lenses and patience, she said. “We will never intervene” with the sometimes savage battles that mark the survival of the fittest.

Cheetahs, which Sue and I saw a few years ago during a safari trip to Botswana, are also endangered, she said. Unfortunately, some of the safari trucks we witnessed carrying camera-toting tourists relentlessly harassed and chased animals from tree to tree. You can help big cats’ survival by donating through Cause An Uproar.

The Jouberts have been filming, researching, and exploring in Africa for over 25 years. Their coverage has resulted in 22 films, 10 books, six scientific papers, and many articles for National Geographic magazine, five Emmys, a Peabody, the World Ecology Award, and the recent induction into the American Academy of Achievement.

“I’ve worked for four years to get them here,” said Santa Barbaran Mike DeGruy, who put together the festival’s Reel Nature slate.

Not part of Mike’s lineup but showing a wild and some say reckless way of helping stave off destruction of the seas is Peter Jay Brown’s Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist. I’ve seen the Whale Wars episodes on Animal Planet, but here was the full-blown account of Brown and Sea Shepherd skipper Paul Watson ramming driftnetters, harassing Japanese whalers, and defying authorities who preferred to arrest the skipper instead of enforcing the law.

Luckily for Watson, he always seemed to carrying a full crew of journalists and TV cameras, enough to intimidate the various authorities who dashed up in boats.

It’s scheduled to be shown at the Metro Four Theater Wednesday, February 2 at 8 a.m., Friday, February 4 at 11:30 a.m., and Saturday, February 5 at 1:40 p.m. Agree with the tactics or not, it’s an exciting ride and a crash course in how maritime laws are being flouted by illegal factory ships.

On the more genteel side is the Oscar-nominated The King’s Speech, shown today, Monday, January 31, at 4:30 p.m. at the Lobero. Tonight, Geoffrey Rush, who plays the unconventional therapist for stutterer King George VI, will receive the festival’s Montecito Award. Also due are co-star and fellow Oscar nominee Colin Firth and others in the cast.

David Seidler
Sue De Lapa

I spoke with David Seidler, who wrote the script and was a youthful stutterer as well. His film shows all the unorthodox measures the uncredentialed therapist Lionel Logue used, including having the queen sit on the reclining king. (True story, according to Seidler.) Seidler said he learned that his own grandfather had actually been treated for stammering by Logue and who dismissed Logue’s methods as “rubbish.”

What’s a 34-year-old Swiss named Nick Brandestini doing in a tiny, godforsaken, end-of-the road town on the sandy outskirts of Death Valley National Park? Well, he had the journalistic nose for the unusual. Switzerland just doesn’t have wide open spaces of desert.

Nick Brandestini
Sue De Lapa

Darwin, named for an early settler, has 35 residents and Nick interviewed many of them, some left over from the wild and wooly mining days, when Darwin was full of guns and hookers. In fact, it still carries that stigma and lots of folk prefer not to visit. “Weren’t you afraid?” Nick was asked when he told people his plans.

But it’s quiet now and residents have settled into old age and so has this town of trailers, wrecked cars, dented lives, a mobile home library and a post office whose postmaster is the only person in town with a job.

In choosing Darwin for a documentary, Nick told me, “I wanted to do something about a living ghost town.”

Mike Wallis and Inge Rademeyer
Sue De Lapa

Mike Wallis and fiancée Inge Rademeyer were thinking of buying a house but decided to make a movie instead. It turned out to be a made-in-New Zealand western. Good for Nothing is about an outlaw and an English lady he kidnaps (Rademeyer). The romance is set in 1870s U.S. “I was 29 when I started filming and now I’m 34,” he told me.


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