Filming the world’s biggest lion rescue

It wasn’t just the rescuers that faced the confrontations with angry circus owners, lions in cages that were falling apart, and endured the rain and biting insects…so did the cameramen following their every move.

Lion Ark was filmed primarily on Red. The camera uses a 35mm-size sensor and records at four times the definition of conventional HD cameras. It uses an all-digital workflow, recording RAW media to an on-board hard disc or compact flash card. The camera is designed to be modular and adaptable and needed to be during Lion Ark.

Additional cinematography was undertaken on Canon 5D, providing a mobile, fast response camera.

Never before has a rescue of this kind been filmed in such vivid detail.

Despite working on a shoestring budget, the rescue team constantly had a dedicated film crew present as the dramatic events unfolded.

Cinematographers, Mark Whatmore and Tony Pattinson, had to travel as light as possible as the ADI rescue team chased across Bolivia in light aircraft and trucks; working in the searing heat of the Bolivian summer and being soaked during the rainy season.  Our picture shows Whatmore’s Red covered in mud from a passing truck on the dirt track leading to ADI’s Lion Ark field station where all 25 lions were held in preparation for the journey to the USA.  The camera was stripped down, cleaned up and back in action shortly afterwards.

Weeks of location filming ensured every step of the adventure was filmed – in Bolivia, Colorado, California, London, Madrid and Washington DC ­– securing a colossal amount of footage.  The film also taps into the massive ADI archive, which runs into thousands of hours.

Lion Ark has a visual richness rarely seen in low budget cutting edge documentaries, the breath taking beauty of a wildlife documentary one moment and the visceral punch of a top news crew the next, filming on the frontline as a story unfolds.

Director Tim Phillips:  “We knew that nothing like Operation Lion Ark had ever been attempted before so at the very least there should be a record of this piece of history.  We went with no agenda, no television rescue format to squeeze this into, no celebrity presenter to try and work around, just a determination to capture events as they happened.

“We wanted to show what it was really like on the frontline, where things go wrong and you have to improvise, where not all the animals make it and where rescuers face real danger, taking animals from people who really do not want to give them up.”

Lion Ark captures all of that, in the most spectacular of circumstances.

Filming in Bolivia
Mark Whatmore
Tony Pattinson

Filming in U.S.A
Mark Whatmore
Gene Blalock
Meryem Ersoz
Shannon Keith
Tyler Duke
Hans Rosenwinkel
Ben Ford



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