Moving Giants on EarthStream

Lion Ark

A Daring Animal Rescue

More action adventure than traditional documentary, Lion Ark follows the world’s most ambitious and daring animal rescue, with a narrative compiled from film, interviews, conversations and reactions as events unfolded. How attitudes to animals were changed in Bolivia, illegal circuses pursued and closed, and 25 lions airlifted to freedom.

Watch Lion Ark by subscribing to EarthStream and we will donate ♥ $30 from our annual plan or ♥ $6 from our monthly plan to Animal Defenders International.

The Impact

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“Refreshingly unpredictable”
– The New York Times

“A conscious-raising milestone”
– The Ecologist

“Compelling cinema verité”
– The Hollywood Reporter

Film Synopsis

More action adventure than traditional documentary, Lion Ark follows the world’s most ambitious and daring animal rescue, with a narrative compiled from film, interviews, conversations and the real time reactions of rescuers as events unfold – this is up close and personal.

A shocking undercover investigation leads to a ban on animal circuses in Bolivia. But the circuses defy the law. The team behind the investigation return, track down the illegal circuses all over the country, and save every animal. The confrontations, heartache and risks the rescue team face are all captured before a joyous finale 25 lions airlifted to freedom in Colorado.  A story of bravery, compassion, camaraderie and determination. How a poor but proud country said ‘no’ to cruelty and how attitudes to animals were changed across an entire continent.

The lions emerge as the real stars and you find yourself rooting for the most aggressive of them all.  An uplifting movie with twists and turns that is still gritty, surprising, informative and pulls no punches.  At last a film with a serious message that will leave you smiling!

About Animal Defenders International

Animal Defenders International is behind some of the biggest and most dangerous large scale animal rescues in the world, with daring undercover missions to expose the suffering of animals. Active worldwide to end animal suffering, ADI’s undercover investigations inside laboratories, circuses, animal traffickers and Hollywood animal trainers, have led to prosecutions and new laws to protect animals. Bans on all, or wild animals in circuses have been secured in almost 50 countries. In Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Guatemala, ADI has been called in to help government wildlife officials enforce the bans and empty the cages. The ADI team tracks down illegal circuses wherever they go, facing threats and abuse as they take the suffering animals to a new life. These rescues often include large-scale relocations of animals – flying over 50 monkeys to forest sanctuary habitats or 33 lions from Peru and Colombia to South Africa. ADI cares for many of these circus survivors in their 455 acre sanctuary in South Africa, where lions and tigers roam huge natural enclosures – the lions, who once lived in cages the size of double beds, enjoy something of the life they were meant to live. ADI also cares for monkeys and bears in the natural homes in Latin America. All the animals have incredible stories of survival. ADI was founded in 1990; is a US 501(c)(3) non-profit; a registered charity in the UK and South Africa; has offices in Colombia and Peru. Winner of a 2021 Great Non Profit Certificate.

Film Awards & Acknowledgements

  • Winner Audience Choice Best Documentary, San Diego Film Festival
  • Winner Best Documentary Omaha International Film Festival
  • Winner Audience Choice Environmental Film Sedona International Film Festival
  • Winner Audience Favorite Documentary Palm Beach International Film Festival
  • Winner Best Documentary Sun & Sand: The Mississippi Film & Music Festival
  • Winner People’s Choice Boulder Film Festival
  • Audience Choice Best Documentary Anchorage International Film Festival
  • Winner Best Documentary, The Alahambra Theatre Film Festival
  • Winner The Animal Award, Cinema Verde Environmental Film & Arts Festival
  • Winner Audience Award, Yes Film Festival
  • Winner Audience Award, Buffalo Niagara Film Festival
  • Nominated: Outstanding International Motion Picture, 45th NAACP Image Awards
  • Official Selection Raindance Film Festival, London
  • Official Selection Mill Valley Film Festival
  • Official Selection Cinemambiente, Environmental Film Festival, Turin, Italy
  • Official Selection Hawaii International Film Festival
  • Official Selection Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
  • Official Selection Virginia Film Festival
  • Official Selection Starz Denver Film Festival
Official Selection
  • Irvine International Film Festival
  • Official Selection Beloit International Film Festival
  • Official Selection Crossroads Festival for Documentary Film and Discourse, Austria
“Compelling cinema verité”
– The Hollywood Reporter

“The feel-good movie of the year!”
– Reel Talk

“Refreshing”
– The New York Times

“Five Stars – Unmissable! Born Free with balls on.”
– Britflicks

“will restore some faith in humanity”
– Shockya.com

“a consciousness-raising milestone”
– The Ecologist

“Up-tempo action-adventure of the most thrilling variety: Real life”
– Stark Insider

“Viewers will be crying tears of joy’”
– International Welfare Examiner

“… heartwarming, beautiful and inspirational. It reminds you of the majestic power of documentary filmmaking”
– Mondo Film & Video Guide

“…thoroughly rewarding”
– TV and Film Review

“Lion Ark takes an already incredible and unforgettable story and breathes life and passion and transformation into it.”
– The Independent Critic

“a revealing documentary with a lot of heart.”
–Eye For Film

“AMAZING! Viewers will be crying tears of joy throughout….”
– Renee Snyder, International Animal Welfare Examiner, The Examiner

Featuring

The real stars of Lion Ark are 25 magnificent lions:  Colo Colo, Muneca, Lulu, Chitara, Dalila, Pancho, Temuco, Kenya, India, Kimba, Bam Bam, Morena, Marta, Maria, Rositta, Rosario, Rosa, Campeon, Hercules, Kiara, Fida, Panchula, Percy, Nancy, and Bob – plus a host of other animals saved along the way. 

Lion Ark also features the leading experts in this field and the key people who made this happen, the undercover investigators, the campaigners, the politicians, the Bolivian officials, and the rescuers themselves.

Jan Creamer, President and co-founder Animal Defenders International (ADI)
Tim Phillips, Vice President and co-founder ADI
Alexis Diaz Limaco, ADI South America Investigations Manager
Dr. Mel Richardson, ADI Veterinarian
Pat Derby, co-founder the Performing Animal Welfare Society
Pat Craig, founder The Wild Animal Sanctuary
Ximena Flores, the member of Bolivian Congress
David Kopp Valdivia, senior official in the Bolivian Ministry enforcing the ban
Bob Barker, TV personality, funded the rescue operation
Jorja Fox, actress, ADI Ambassador

Production

Lion Ark was filmed on location in: Bolivia; Colorado; California; Washington

Directed by Tim Phillips
Produced by ADI Films
Producers Jan Creamer & Tim Phillips
Associate Producers Seafox Productions & Vivian Bosch
Director of Photography Mark Whatmore
Edited by Tony Pattinson
Written by Tim Phillips & Jan Creamer
Original score by Karel Havlicek

Director’s Statement

I knew that Operation Lion Ark could be historic – no one had attempted anything on this scale before – clear an entire country of animals in circuses, then fly 25 lions thousands of miles to safety.

The circuses were spread all over this beautiful, remote country – about the size of Texas and California combined – none was willing to give up their animals. There was no infrastructure – no facilities, communications, no sanctuary or animal hospital.

So if it came off, we would be documenting a remarkable and historic operation. My first thought was record everything – the planning, the seizures, when things went wrong, when things went well, even having a beer at the end of the day. We didn’t have any format or agenda in mind for the film – just follow events as they unfold.

Location filming was our biggest commitment: Red filming for over five weeks would provide an incredibly rich visual record of events. And more cameras when the Lion Ark landed in Colorado.

I’d made short documentaries before where the participants look back over the events that are central to the story. What we wanted to do with Lion Ark was have everything taking place as the story unfolded, with interviews and personal commentary within the context of the story. Once the rescue began people would never leave it, they would be there in the moment, throughout.

When Jan Creamer (President of ADI) is talking about the confinement these animals endure and the resulting disturbed behavior, she is eye to eye with a frantically pacing lioness that she is rescuing. Inevitably, this has a different feel to something recorded after the event. As animals are being saved we get the real emotions of the people around them, in the moment. When people are talking about an animal that is dying or might die, they are visibly shaken – they are not telling you they were upset at the time.

Those reactions to events as they occur also give a real insight into the protagonists in the film – an additional passion, immediacy, even intimacy.

I wanted to give the film the momentum of a drama, led by the events and action rather than the specific facts or issues I wanted to talk about. We didn’t want to cut from the action to a retrospective perspective. In fact all of the key issues are addressed by what is happening.

The majority of Lion Ark is constructed from the conversations and events that took place, not interviews. This is what presented the greatest editorial challenge, building the narratives to events from disparate sound sources.

Obviously, it would have been easier to put this together with a standard narration, but that could never have captured the truly visceral experience of this rescue operation, nor taken the viewer to the very heart of this adventure. It was a painstaking, but worthwhile, process.

We also followed every lion; would one get sick? Or worse, die? In the end, the lion who steadily became the star of the film – Colo Colo – surprised us all. His journey from being tormented, angry and in pain, to freedom and peace makes him the true star of Lion Ark and encapsulates everything the film is about.

As Operation Lion Ark unfolded we realized that we had something special – purely as drama, the story unfolded perfectly – we took no liberties with the order of events, but there kept being more twists and turns. In many ways Lion Ark is structured and edited more as a drama rather than traditional documentaries, because the viewer is there at the heart of everything watching events unfold and not hearing about it second hand.

The film is an exposé of a serious subject, but it is also a gloriously uplifting adventure.

Watch Lion Ark by subscribing to EarthStream and we will donate ♥ $30 from our annual plan or ♥ $6 from our monthly plan to Animal Defenders International.

Use the SUBSCRIBE button above to have your subscription attributed to Animal Defenders International.

If you want to invite family or friends, you can gift a subscription to someone!