Inside the dark world of trophy hunting

Story highlights

  • Ulrich Seidl's documentary "Safari" shines a light on the world of trophy hunting
  • The Austrian director has a knack for finding real characters who are stranger than fiction

(CNN)"Why does a person go on holiday just to shoot an animal? What is the motivation behind it?"

Ulrich Seidl, Austrian director and master of grotesque documentary, still doesn't have a definitive answer to the question he's posed. In fact, he's sure there isn't one.
    Director Ulrich Seidl
    "Safari", his latest film, fixes a stark and unflinching lens on the murky practice of trophy hunting -- a business legal in Namibia, but condemned by many.
      Despite outrage after the killing of Cecil the lion, in Zimbabwe, and Corey Knowlton's high-profile rhino hunt, in Namibia, it's an industry that refuses to die. Hunters, mainly tourists, pay huge fees for a license to shoot big and rare African fauna.
      Every animal comes with a price, and the only barriers are one's coffers and conscience.

      Stranger than fiction

      "Safari" is not the first time Seidl has brought his unique brand of filmmaking to the continent. In 2012, he traced the fates of what he calls "Sugar Mamas" -- European women who seek out younger African boys for sex -- in Kenya in "Paradise: Love".
      You could argue both documentaries deal in meat markets.
      Two young hunters crouch over a dead zebra at the Leopard Lodge, Namibia.
      Seidl has a knack for finding characters too unbelievable to be fiction. Perverse and prosaic, his subjects show that idiosyncrasy is far more common than we realize.
      The guests at the Leopard Lodge in Namibia are no different. From retired couples to young families, these Europeans firmly believe what they are doing is not just acceptable, but right.
      "If hunting takes place in controlled conditions, it's legitimate and viable," argues one German hunter, out to kill a wildebeest. "Especially if, like here, in a developing nation, people get money from it. A hunter spends more in two weeks than a normal tourist in two months."
      Sitting down with tourists at the lodge, Seidl -- a silent presence -- lets his hunters unravel the logic behind their actions and dissect their motives. There is no judgment on the behalf of the director, nor conclusions drawn -- at least on film.
      "I felt like the hunters were always looking for a reason, looking to justify what they're doing," Seidl reveals. If not citing the economic benefits (which some studies claim are overstated), hunters argue animals are old, or have a negative impact on herds.
      Seidl's editing, laced with irony, includes plenty of shots of one overweight hunter snoring, drinking beer and generally appearing to be past his prime. You're left with the impression that if the roles were reversed, this corpulent man might well be considered an ethical target.
      An Austrian father and son (right) stalk their prey in the Namibian bush.