DiCaprio, for­mer Krem­lin aide com­pet­ing for ivory doc­u­men­tary Os­car

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Hol­ly­wood heart­throb and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Leonardo DiCaprio is com­pet­ing for an­other Os­car against an un­likely ri­val a for­mer top aide to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. Crit­ics are tout­ing DiCaprio's "The Ivory Game", about Africa's il­le­gal ivory trade, for a pres­ti­gious Academy Award in the doc­u­men­tary film cat­e­gory along with a film on the same sub­ject by Sergey Yas­trzhem­b­sky, the Krem­lin's best-known spokesman in the West for more than a decade. The sil­ver-haired ex-diplo­mat spent most of his work­ing life de­flect­ing me­dia crit­i­cism as Putin's spokesman on Chech­nya and spe­cial en­voy to Brussels, and ear­lier as the Krem­lin's mouth­piece un­der the late Boris Yeltsin.

Now Yas­trzhem­b­sky is try­ing to cause a stir with his "Ivory A Crime Story", which names and shames top ivory buy­ers such as China, the Vat­i­can and Bud­dhist monks in Thai­land. It high­lights how the pop­u­la­tion of ele­phants in Africa has dropped to less than 500,000 from 1.5 mil­lion in the past 30 years and that ev­ery 15 min­utes an ele­phant is slaugh­tered by poach­ers for its ivory. The price of ivory soared to $3,000 a kilo from $6 some 35 years ago, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­men­tary.

If noth­ing is done, con­ser­va­tion­ists say the African ele­phant could be ex­tinct in the wild within a gen­er­a­tion. "We can only hope that this film will get the world to pay more at­ten­tion to this sad sit­u­a­tion re­gard­ing ele­phants in Africa," Yas­trzhem­b­sky told Reuters in an in­ter­view in Paris. His doc­u­men­tary, which took three years and cost $1 mil­lion to make, won prizes this year at the Mon­treal, Rome and New York film fes­ti­vals. Harsh scenes in­clude one of an ele­phant be­ing shot and then moan­ing as it is hacked to pieces by poach­ers.

Yas­trzhem­b­sky said Pope Fran­cis saw a short­ened ver­sion of his film be­fore pub­licly speak­ing out in Nairobi against ivory poaching in Kenya. He also said he helped con­vince Rus­sia's nu­clear en­ergy agency RosAtom, which he ini­tially ap­proached to co-fi­nance the film, to spend money on pro­tect­ing wildlife around a ura­nium de­posit it in­tends to mine in Tan­za­nia.

Yas­trzhem­b­sky said he showed a trailer to DiCaprio three years ago on the yacht of a mu­tual friend, the real-es­tate oli­garch Vladimir Zem­stov, in the French re­sort of Saint Tropez. Yas­trzhem­b­sky said he in­vited DiCaprio to take part in his project fi­nan­cially or do the voiceover, but talks never bore fruit. "I think DiCaprio wanted to do his own film," he said. DiCaprio's "The Ivory Game" de­buted at the Toronto Film Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber.

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