To some, the jaguar symbolizes life, power, energy, and legend. To others, it represents profit.
As a medium, non-fiction cinema finds its profitable niche in telling stories of tales of drastic, human-led environmental change. When at its best, the genre is revolutionary. At its worst: oversaturated and long-winded. Tigre Gente resides firmly in the former. This compelling film provides a raw and nuanced exploration of the rising jaguar trafficking industry, its subsequent effects on biodiversity, persisting cultural divides, and the conflicting perspectives of those involved.
Unfolding like a thrilling mystery novel, the film follows Marcos, a Bolivian park ranger, and Laurel, a Chinese journalist, as they attack opposing sides of the new illegal jaguar trade. Filmmaker Elizabeth Unger is a master of building suspense as the parallel perspectives showcase the escalating stakes in the race to save the jaguar population. There is a palpable sense of frustration and desperation that makes the viewing experience equally cinematic and educational. We sit at the edge of our seats as Marcos, and other park rangers embark on daring boat chases to apprehend illegal hunters. We’re shocked as Laurel uncovers the sheer pervasiveness of wildlife trading in Chinese culture.
The film showcases visually stunning cinematography. Unger transports viewers from the mystic beauty of Madidi National Park to the cultural hubs of Guangzhou and Hong Kong. It takes a particular passion calculated risk to document the movements of big cats up close. Still, Unger manages to do so in a way that preserves the natural atmosphere without venturing into exploitation or jeopardizing the cinematic nature of the film.
The film’s greatest strength lies not in its cinematography but in its authenticity and its capability for nuance. Tigre Gente, helmed by the Bolivian theanthropic legend of the same name, is as much about the people involved as it is the jaguars themselves. The scenes of low-action intimacy or commonplace interactions are equally as crucial as the suspense-building sequences. Each culture has specific spiritual and emotional connections to the jaguar. These are accompanied by misconceptions about those on the other side of the trade. It’s refreshing for Unger to lean into the greyness of the topic without compromising the dire need for species preservation. She does so with a rawness rarely ever touched upon in contemporary nature documentaries. While acknowledging the presence of corporate greed, this story is more suited to harm reduction and cultural misuse.
Overall, Tigre Gente is a fresh take on the modern nature documentary. It serves as an indirect call to action for environmental preservation. The film is sure to satisfy thrill-seeking movie-goers as well as dedicated conservationists.