With the last days of the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival coming up, it was time to virtually catch up on some of the bigger profile films still left. THE CONSERVATION GAME, which seems to have been filmed before TIGER KING as it intersects with some of the events, fit the bill and certainly had an edge to it.
THE CONSERVATION GAME follows Tim Harrison, a retired cop and animal rights activist for Outreach for Animals, as he tries to track down “ambassador animals” that have once appeared on television and then rather than end up in a zoo or sanctuary have basically disappeared into private hands. And, from what we see of exotic animal ownership in the documentary, for every acceptable and responsible private owner there are like 20 that are ill equipped and cruel to the animals. It’s enough to make one’s blood boil.
What THE CONSERVATION GAME does that makes it fairly remarkable is that it pulls no punches. Names are named all the way up to Jack Hanna. Networks and television programs are called out for treating wild animals as cute pets and circus acts and enabling unscrupulous behavior and exploitation. It questions the justification of “raising awareness”, like zoos and actual sanctuaries don’t already do that. It’s an angry and outraged documentary.
What THE CONSERVATION GAME is not is a film that believes in giving equal time to the people accused of shady behavior. Albeit, clearly many people are lying and obfuscating on camera. Even in network appearances, they’re intentionally vague referring to an animal’s mother being in “some zoo” instead of any specifics. Whether or not they have decent motives or not, the documentary doesn’t spare anyone. That said, there’s a certain amount of back patting that creeps into the documentary and frankly the sense of self aggrandizement that’s going on appears somewhat unearned based on what they’re actually shown accomplishing.
Still, THE CONSERVATION GAME is an absolute dose of adrenaline in the documentary field with its absolute anger. It’s riveting stuff.
THE CONSERVATION GAME had one screening during the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival but it’s still available to stream on the virtual portion of the festival and for a limited time on its website. The 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 21, 2022 until May 5, 2022. You can purchase tickets at mkefilm.org.