Wednesday 1 March 2023

Streaming on Prime Video - Rod Bishop highly recommends WILDCAT (Trevor Frost, Melissa Lesh, USA, 2022)

Khan the ocelot

There are three stories in this documentary, two you watch on screen and one you don’t.

The first story is between humans and wild animals at a re-wilding station known as Hoja Nueva (New Leaf) deep in the Peruvian Amazon. As such stories go, they don’t come more intense than Wildcat

Among the animals being saved for re-integration into the rainforest are two ocelots known as Khan and Keanu. The footage of their relationship with Harry Turner and Samantha Zwicker, as they rear the large cats for release in the wild, certainly challenges the cephalopod from the Oscar-winning My Octopus Teacher (2020). 

Harry Turner and ocelot

The second story is Harry’s disintegrating mental health. A young British veteran from the Afghan war, traumatized by watching children slaughtered, Harry wears his PTSD, his paralysing depression, and his wild suicidal thoughts on his sleeve just below a forearm showing the countless knife scars where he has self-harmed. His relationships to both the ocelots and to the Seattle PhD student Samantha are his only hope for mental-health redemption.

The third story, the one we don’t see, is the astonishing intimacy, trust and empathy in the relationship between Harry and Samantha and the directors Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh, filmmakers whose previous credits include only a couple of shorts. Their back-story has to sought online: four years of dedication, including six months living rough in the rainforest. Frost, too, suffers from depression and with Lesh back in the USA for emergency brain surgery, he is left alone to film Harry’s final cathartic breakdown. 

Samantha Zwicker

Amazon Studios bought Wildcat for $20 million, prompting Variety to describe it “a staggering sum for a doc of its kind”. But it’s given Harry and Sam and the filmmakers financial security.

 Wildcat was an “Oscar-hopeful” but didn’t make the cut, probably due to the inclusion of the remarkable Indian wildlife documentary about kites in Delhi, All That Breathes

Pity. Wildcat is profound, adventurous and ultimately very moving filmmaking. It deserves better. 


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