These guys shot the illegal ivory trade undercover

Questions answered about the real adventure of making a real life thriller: The Ivory Game.
By Corinna Halloran

By the time you finish this article, one elephant will be dead.

Three years ago, when filmmakers Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani read a frightening article in the New York Times about the extinction of elephants, they knew they had found their next documentary. What they didn’t know was what an intense adventure it would become as the filmmakers chased elephants and their poachers in Africa, went undercover in Hong Kong, and narrowly escaped arrest in Beijing. What has resulted is a beautiful and thrilling documentary, The Ivory Game; it is about the annihilation of the elephants for their ivory and the story of the brave individuals who are doing whatever it takes to save the largest land animal from extinction.

We sat down with Kief and Richard at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to discuss their heart pumping film The Ivory Game, the real-life adventure story they lived, and the involvement of Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Ivory Game will premiere globally on Netflix on November 4.

How did this adventure begin for you two?

© Terra Mater Factual Studios/Tobias Corts

Although the filmmakers were friends for a long time, it would prove more challenging to convince the film's characters they could be trusted. And, to tell this story correctly that trust would be vital. Furthermore, once they dove into this story, they realised it was perhaps more complicated than ever anticipated.

How did you prepare to go undercover for three years to make this film?

© Terra Mater Factual Studios/Anne Ackermann

Not many films require the directors to do high-risk training, but then again The Ivory Game is unlike many films. The filmmakers had to ensure they could handle whatever was (literally) thrown at them.

When you started filming, did you think it would become a real life action adventure thriller story?

The Ivory Game is constantly referred to as a 'real life thriller,' but the filmmakers did not have to create this feeling in the adrenaline-fuelled story – all they had to do was press record.

What kind of camera gear did you use while shooting?

© Terra Mater Factual Studios/Anne Ackermann

The Ivory Game feels like a Hollywood cinematic production, which was only made possible with a plethora of GoPros, spy cameras, drones, and cinematic cameras.

Did you ever almost get caught? What was the scariest moment?

© Terra Mater Factual Studios/Anne Ackermann

From filming illegally to escaping countries before the government could catch on, Richard and Kief encountered really intense moments whilst filming The Ivory Game.

Were your lives ever in real danger?

That said, they were simply the directors – the characters in the film were often in the real danger, as they were (and still are) in the streets investigating and unveiling the illegal ivory trade daily.

What was the biggest moment for you?

© Terra Mater Factual Studios/Anne Ackermann

The filmmakers behind The Ivory Game have been asked countless times: has the film already made an impact? And the answer is yes. The film brought together thousands of people who were working separately on the elephant's situation. Making the biggest, global impact is the best part of this film.

What does having Leonardo DiCaprio involved do for the film?

© Terra Mater Factual Studios/Tobias Corts

Oscar winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio is The Ivory Game's executive producer; not only does he care greatly about saving the world for future generations but he is also one of the strongest voices to raise global awareness.

What was one of the craziest moments during filming?

Although The Ivory Game's first aim is to save elephants from extinction through education, the second aim is to entertain – and sometimes that meant filming in extreme situations to bring the most epic footage straight to your lap on Netflix on November 4.

Want to learn more about Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani's film and the power it has to change the world? Click here now.

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