Emmy Award-Winning filmmaker Jon Kasbe has devoted more than three years to making the critically-acclaimed feature length documentary ‘When Lambs Become Lions.’
The compelling film is the first of its kind to intimately observe and document the profound struggles of life in Kenya as experienced first-hand by a prominent ivory seller referred to as X, a poacher named Lukas, and X’s anti-poaching ranger cousin, Asan, who struggles to support his growing family in Africa.
Throughout filming, Kasbe gained an extraordinary level of access and trust on both sides of the ideological and ethical spectrum as he became part of the poachers everyday lives. The result is a rare and visually arresting look through the perspectives and motives of the people at the epicenter of the conservation divide.
‘When Lambs Become Lions’ is fundamentally as real and raw as it gets.
WAN had the opportunity to speak with 29-year-old Kasbe about his groundbreaking film which is set to start its one week run in New York this Friday, December 6th, at the Village East Cinema located at 181-189 2nd Avenue in New York City.
“Within an hour of meeting X, all of the preconceived notions I had about poaching turned upside down,” explained Kasbe, who further shared that while he had worked on three other projects in Kenya before, he had not yet embraced the complexity of what was happening there. “Every day I spent with them, there were more surprises. It’s a process. The more I learned, the more I realized how little I knew.”
“X felt deeply misrepresented by the media.” Kasbe told WAN, further explaining that for many months while gaining their trust, he did not even film, spending most of his time in the field listening to them without a camera. “I had to show them that my motivation for creating this project was to view the world from their perspective; to understand their choices and share that understanding with other people.”
“I became a sponge and absorbed everything,” continued Kasbe. “By the end, I understood the stakes were life or death for their children, and for them.”
The poignantly intimate and narrative feel of ‘When Lambs Become Lions’ was achieved by letting the camera run for long stretches of time, capturing the minutiae, as well as life-changing moments. Nothing in the 700 hours of footage Kasbe captured was re-enacted or staged, generating powerful, and often breathtaking footage to work with.
The final cut has audiences feeling like they are experiencing it first-hand.
“This approach to filming also meant going through difficult times with the characters, on the days when the characters didn’t have food to eat, I didn’t eat either. If they had to walk a full day to get somewhere, I walked with them,” noted Kasbe. “I slept on their floors, I babysat their children, I followed X and Lukas on hunts and Asan’s unit on patrol. At the start of each trip, I would wait, sometimes weeks, before bringing my camera out. It felt vital to put the relationships first.”
Kasbe also shared with WAN that he taught them English as another way to try to equalize the situation. The men opened up their lives to him unfiltered without any financial compensation; which was necessary to ensure the authenticity of the film.
It’s important to note that Kasbe made a conscious decision not to include footage of the hunts, of which he went on approximately ten of them, calling them traumatic and the most difficult part of filming.
The film does however contain powerful footage from when the Kenyan government announced a crackdown on poaching with a massive public ivory burn in April of 2016.
When WAN inquired about what was the most rewarding part about making the film, the people’s relationships was the answer. They bonded so much so that according to Kasbe, they “still talk every other day.”
‘When Lambs Become Lions’ concludes with X registering to train to become an anti-poaching ranger. Among Kasbe’s goals by making this powerful documentary is to inspire more educated and enlightened conversations worldwide.
“By portraying X’s and Asan’s perspectives and experiences, we hope to show that we can’t keep talking about the conservation crisis while ignoring the people living at the center of it,” stated Kasbe.
‘When Lambs Become Lions’ will be premiering in more cities throughout the United States. Please CLICK HERE for a location near you.