An interview with The Last Lions, directors Dereck Joubert, Beverly Joubert
One of the most urgent and certainly among the most beautifully shot documentaries to hit the big screen in recent memory, “The Last Lions” isn’t just another cute and fuzzy encounter session with a different species. It’s a pulse-quickening, tear-duct milking and outrageously dramatized story about the threats — wildfires, chomping teeth, stampeding hooves and, worst of all, unseen humans — that face a female lion trying to protect her cubs. Here, single motherhood doesn’t mean juggling family, work and PTA meetings: it means parking the tots in the bushes and then trying to take down a water buffalo the size of a jeep.
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It is to a mother lioness, and the team of Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who wrote, produced and photographed her life and triumphs in all their cruelty and wonder, that we owe a genuinely astonishing film. Astonishing for its drama, its suspense—and not least its capacity to elicit a sense of joy in viewers, a reaction not commonly induced by wildlife films involving threatened species.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of darkness, violence and cruel loss in “The Last Lions” which follows the lioness known as Ma di Tau—Mother of Lions—as she strives to find a safe place for herself and her three cubs in Botswana’s wetlands, a place thick with enemies. Alone, her mate having been killed, she escapes a rival pride led by an enemy lioness by conquering the lions’ hatred of water. Ma di Tau dares to swim, and lands with her cubs on an isolated island. Here, the lone adult lion, she has to contend with the threat of a large herd of aggressive wild buffalos equipped with killer horns, their devastating weapons. Desperation drives her to launch a surprise attack on the entire terrifying herd. This calculation is rewarded with stunning success—one of the film’s memorable sights. And they’re numerous.
She’ll face other dangers: The rival pride led by the enemy lioness, a cub-killer called Silver Eye, appears, having taken Ma di Tau’s cue and braved the river. In this struggle, too, largely about strategy, Ma di Tau prevails, mainly by her displays of bold authority.
This chronicle of survival and triumph—Ma di Tau’s engagements with enemies are executed with military precision—unfolds in glorious color to the accompaniment of a narrative by Jeremy Irons so absurdly lush and so right you’ll want to hear it again. As you’ll want to see this mother reunited again with the cub she thought lost to her, and to watch her plot her strategies and win again against all the odds.