A heartfelt defense of a cute, inspiringly odd creature outsiders might assume needs no such defense, Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre’s Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story finds its eponymous animal in the crosshairs of Aussies who think they’re pet food at best, a “plague” at worst. Eye-opening in some respects but frustratingly one-sided, it will win some viewers to its cause but play best with those who tend toward the vegan side when it comes to questions of humans’ treatment of non-human animals.
Opening with eerie night-vision footage, the filmmakers follow an activist as she sneaks around on her own property, observing as outsiders drive in and kill several adult kangaroos. Who are these gun-toting intruders, we wonder? Teens curing boredom with senseless violence? Poachers or trophy-hunters?
We soon learn that thousands of such killings take place every night across the country, resulting from a widespread belief that kangaroos are “a pest that should be eliminated wholesale.” Based on that attitude, the government issues plentiful exclusions from laws protecting the animal. Interviewees here say those exclusions are so easy to get (resulting in what the movie calls the largest wildlife slaughter in the world) that existing regulations are “protection in name only.”
Sometime around here, viewers will naturally expect hard numbers to justify the film’s indignation. But the filmmakers are reluctant to offer many figures, and certainly disagree with estimates (cited throughout the media last September) that there were around 45 million ‘roos in 2016, way up from 27 million in 2010. Interviewing some academics and officials who study such things, the film raises reasonable-sounding doubts about the way animal populations are counted in the vast expanse of Australia. We hear of sketchy-sounding practices of estimation that, if true, could make an endangered species seem to be proliferating.
Though it explores some other data-based concerns over killing the animals — advocates claim that kangaroo meat sold for human consumption is ripe with salmonella and E. coli; naturally, meat companies dispute their research — the film’s second half roots its arguments in emotion and visceral response. We see the disgusting aftermath of legal hunting, with piles of entrails, heads and limbs left in the sun to rot; we learn that babies of slain females are beaten to death by hunters who’d rather not waste a bullet.
Here, we’re on similar ground with anti-meat films that use shocking images of factory farms to win people to their cause. That’s certainly fair in itself, but such appeals sit uncomfortably with the doc’s purely rational arguments, inspiring us to wonder how much of the other side’s case is being unfairly ignored. In the end, Kangaroo is the kind of advocacy film that’s most likely to convince you if you already believe.
Production company: Second Nature Films
Directors-screenwriters: Kate McIntyre Clere, Michael McIntyre
Director of photography: Michael McIntyre
Editor: Wayne Hyett
Composer: David Bridie