Kate on Conservation

Sides of a Horn film: interview with Director Toby Wosskow

Sides of a Horn is the first film to tell the story of Africa’s poaching war from both sides of the fence. From Director Toby Wosskow and Executive Producer Sir Richard Branson, the dramatic short film is based on actual events, and filmed in one of the communities most directly impacted by wildlife crime.

Following the journey of two brothers-in-law fighting on opposite sides of Africa’s poaching war, it offers an unbiased portrait of a modern war that is tearing communities apart and driving a prehistoric species to the verge of extinction.

I first featured Sides of a Horn on this blog back in December 2017, when the project had secured its funding on Kickstarter, and filming was about to commence . A Year and a half later, and this week Sides of a Horn is available to watch online at www.rhinomovie.com.

Interview with Sides of a Horn Director, Toby Wosskow

I was delighted to catch up with writer and director Toby, who has spent considerable time in the field with the men and women at the heart of Africa’s poaching crisis.

This has allowed him to develop every character, story, and line of dialogue from a direct level of truth. It also made it possible to film in the townships impacted by the crisis and in the game reserves that combat poaching on a daily basis.

oby Wosskow meeting with royal family. Photo by Dino Benedetti - Sides of a Horn
Writer/Director Toby Wosskow meeting with royal family. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Kate: Last October, the film received full funding on Kickstarter of over $57,000. What has happened since then?

Toby: Wow – a lot has happened since then! We used the funds raised to shoot Sides of a Horn on location in South African townships and game reserves that are directly impacted by wildlife crime. I then returned to the U.S. to do post-production. Since then, we have been screening the film all over the world for film festival audiences, policymakers and the people at the heart of the issue. The film has been incredibly well received so far. I can’t wait to release it to the public on June 25.

At the time, Sides of a Horn was the fifth highest funded short film of all time on Kickstarter — why do you think it captured that kind of interest?

We were fortunate that our campaign caught the attention of a few influential conservationists early on, which helped us gain traction. Their support sparked a general interest in the project, causing the campaign to begin trending in the online conservation community. The funds came from people all over the world. The internet is such an incredible tool when it’s used for good.

What do rhinos mean to you, personally? What about them in particular inspired you to make this film?

The rhino has been around for over 50 million years. It’s a living, breathing time machine. At the current rate of poaching, this majestic animal is now less than 10 years away from extinction. The concept of potentially losing this dinosaur grabbed me and I couldn’t look away.

Photo credit: Kate on Conservation

Your film is a narrative film, telling a story from the eyes of the ranger, the poacher, and the rhino; what were challenges of this? 

I had to conduct extensive research to ensure that I was telling these stories authentically. I also decided to shoot the film in a foreign language (Zulu), a language I do not speak nor understand, which was a new experience for me as a director. I had to learn to trust that our translator would let me know if the actors were not saying their lines correctly, which allowed me to be fully present with the actors and focus on how their performances were making me feel, rather than getting hung up on their dialogue.  

Why did you choose to make a narrative film?

There have been a lot of incredible documentaries that have done so much for the poaching crisis. However, I believe there is a whole group of people that the documentaries are not reaching – the people who only watch narrative films, and the people who are not yet open to the concept of conservation. By approaching this as a dramatic, cinematic, human story, I hope we can widen our audience beyond those who are already activists.

While it is clear this is a narrative film, not a documentary, sometimes those lines seem to blur. What was your process in telling this story?

While the film is scripted, spending time with the people in the middle of the crisis allowed for every line of dialogue, every character and every story to be written from a direct level of truth. In production, the community in which we were filming became a huge part of the filmmaking process itself. It became a sort of ebb and flow of art imitating life and life imitating art, which really allowed us to immerse the audience in the world of these characters.

Writer/Director Toby Wosskow location scouting. Photo by Dino Benedetti - © 2017 Sides of a Horn
Writer/Director Toby Wosskow location scouting. Photo by Dino Benedetti – © 2017 Sides of a Horn

Do you have any favourite moments or memories from the filmmaking experience?

My favourite part of this experience was collaborating with the local community. We worked with them every step of the way, from developing the script, to casting local non-actors, to securing locations, and beyond. Another special moment was when we found the rhino for the pivotal scene in the bush — it took a whole day to find him, which knocked us off schedule. When we eventually found the rhino, it was a beautiful moment.

Could you feel a sense of urgency and purpose in the process of making Sides of a Horn?

Just days before we began production, Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino, died. The day we began production, a rhino was poached in the park we were filming in. On the day we wrapped production, 5 Anti-Poaching Rangers were killed in Virunga National Park. When we got back to Los Angeles to do post-production, the horrific news stories continued on the other side of the world, but they felt more and more present.

What do you hope the film will show? Is there a lasting message you would like to leave people with? 

The most common mentality in fighting this crisis is “buy more guns, kill more poachers”. By humanizing the men and women on the ground, and showing the complexities of their situation, I hope our film makes people consider more sustainable solutions. We have to find ways to incentivize the people living next to protected areas to take care of their wildlife instead of poaching it. The point of the film is not to provide answers; it is to create a conversation. I believe positive change can only begin with open dialogue.

Rhino mother and calf. Photo credit: Kate on Conservation

What’s next for you? Any further films or work with rhinos?

I am looking forward to directing my first feature film, which I have been writing. I will continue to do conservation work with organizations like the African Wildlife Foundation, whose council I have joined.

Where can we see Sides of a Horn? 

You can watch the film and take part in our activation campaign at www.rhinomovie.com.

The short film written and directed by Toby Wosskow, from Executive Producer Sir Richard Branson, was an international co-production between US companies Broad River Productions, Whirlow Park Pictures and Frame 48, alongside South Africa’s The Televisionaries and YKMD Productions. 

Sides of a Horn is also available to watch on EcoStreamz, where 80% of subscription fees go to the campaigners — whether film-makers or charities — according to which films you watch.

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