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The Independent Critic

 The Tim Phillips Interview Continued 
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THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I thought that was exciting. I'd known about some of your awards, but I'd not heard about that one and when I saw that I just thought that was incredibly awesome.

TIM PHILLIPS

I've gone on rather at random there.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

That's alright. It's absolutely perfect. I tend to do rather relaxed, random interviews anyway. One of the things I was thinking about, and you really spoke to it, was your happy ending in Lion Ark. That truly is rare in this kind of a documentary, or at least it's rare that it's done in a way that doesn't feel manipulative. In most cases, you get an ending where you're left with this catastrophic event or happening and you get this sense of "There's this overwhelming problem." I've always hated that, because I don't think it really empowers people in the right way. I think one of the powerful things about Lion Ark is that you're left with this sense of "I can make a difference," because you watch the film and a tremendous diversity of people really did come together to make a difference in the lives of these lions. Your film provides tangible evidence that something can truly be done and it works. With Lion Ark, you got the fact that this relatively small organization with a few people really made a difference from influencing legislation to quite literally saving the lives of these animals. That's really powerful to me.

TIM PHILLIPS

Well, yes...You know, you did a really wonderful review of the film. I think you really summed up everything that we really wanted to achieve with this film.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I was wondering if ADI was involved in the situation with Ringling Brothers. I know that they just announced that they are discontinuing their elephant act.

TIM PHILLIPS

Yes, we've pretty much been involved in all of those campaigns. We've also been involved in state legislation. We introduced TEAPA, the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act, which would prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses across the United States. It's still not got the amount of support to get it through, but it continues to gain support every year. That's the nature of politics. You have to steadily build support. So, we will be introducing it again. I think we will keep building support. There's no serious appetite for wild animals in circuses in America. It's a generally compassionate country with huge support for animal protection. I think there is no real appetite for those acts in America. I think it's inevitable it will be stopped in America. I think it's a fairly historic statement. I caution most people that it's a commitment from a company that may be just testing the water. I think it's very significant, but it's not legislation. They can change minds.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I really like a point that you made. It does seem like we're seeing a change even among those people who would say that they "enjoy" animal entertainment. I think many people are starting to realize that maybe that level of entertainment isn't worth what these animals endure for it to happen. I'm thinking of places like Sea World that are experiencing significant drops in attendance. I can't help but think that all this awareness is helping and people are realizing there's a price for that kind of entertainment and it's not worth it.

TIM PHILLIPS

I completely agree and I think that people are wrestling with how animals should be treated. I think most people at this point and time realize that these animals suffer, or are likely to suffer, and it's just to amuse ourselves. I think if you look at the 31 countries that have banned the use of wild animals or all animals in circuses, it's amazing how different they are. It's a staggering range of socio-economic countries. All of these countries that are also very different are not just saying "If we're going to use animals in this way, we should improve things a bit," but they're saying "We should not be doing this anymore." We should not be putting animals in this position. That's a really massive social global change happening. I think that Lion Ark tapped into that. When you see the sort of enthusiasm of the people in Bolivia and the people coming from the outside to help with the operation, I think that we've captured, not in its entirety obviously, how society is changing in how it treats animals. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

I want to be respectful of your time, but I'd like to ask maybe a couple more questions. I'm sure you get this question all the time, but what about zoos? They're always a dilemma for me. On one hand, it seems wrong to have animals living outside their natural habitat. Yet, I also can understand the argument that zoos allow us to build a sort of relationship with animals. They help children understand them and respect them. It seems to me there's some sort of benefit there.

TIM PHILLIPS

We're often asked this when we're screening Lion Ark. I think there's a difference in that zoos are permanent facilities. They could raise the standard, whereas if you're forcing animals to do tricks and you're moving all the time then there's only so far that you can go to raise the standard. You could say that zoos have to meet the kinds of standards of the sanctuaries where we would placed the lions where people who see them are far away and are not intimidating the animals. The animals are in natural family groups. They have lots of space to run about and they've generally got control over their own lives. I think if we're going to change things and how things are, which is obviously our aim, I think there needs a radical movement from what has become the modern zoo. We have to ask "Are they just deliberately putting animals in captivity?" Who's going to be stuck with unwanted animals? There will always be animals in captivity that we need to look after. Are we deliberately, and this is the case with most zoos, constantly breeding them and creating over-population? We completely disagree with doing either of those things. The other thing is "Are we just stockpiling animals?" and maybe having 300 different species? This cannot be the way to look after animals. You have to specialize. It's rather pleasing that certain zoos are starting to do this, Detroit for example, who said "We are not in the right environment to have elephants." They made the bold decision of handing those animals over to a sanctuary. Now that's the kind of future that I think we have and that we'll get rid of these roadside zoos and such where animals are just stockpiled. They should specialize. They should give them the space that they need and the habitat that they need and where possible the climate that they need.

Lion Ark is playing at the 1st Annual Alhambra Theater Film Festival in Evansville, Indiana on April 10th & 11th. For more information on Lion Ark and Animal Defenders International visit the ADI website.

Copyright 2015
Interview by Richard Propes

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