The big top is a small cell for many exotic animals. In 2009, Bolivia became the first country in the world to ban animals in all circuses, citing widespread cruelty in that industry.
Behind the ban was a London-based organization called Animal Defenders International, which found eight circuses continuing to mistreat the 24 lions in their custody two years after the group's legal victory.
The ADI-produced documentary "Lion Ark" is a boastful record of the animal-rights activists' confiscation of those big cats from their owners. As in 2010's "The Cove," the self-styled heroes of this film frame themselves as saviors rescuing defenseless creatures from the violent, unfeeling brutes of other continents. Despite having the Bolivian police literally by their side, for example, the lion liberators routinely express worry that the circus thugs will attack them or shoot the lions out of spite. Not one member of the group seems concerned with the livelihoods or investments lost by the seizure of the animals.
But director Tim Phillips, vice president of Animal Defenders, does provide us with the chance to watch captive cats psychologically transform before our eyes, from compulsively pacing or lying listlessly in a cage indifferent to the flies around its face to frolicking in hay and grass in makeshift families. The lions are majestic yet adorable; too bad the humans are such a sorry sight.
"Lion Ark." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.
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