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The Killing Seasons -- Documentary Film's video poster

Two decidedly different stories of conservation in Africa: one absolutely ruthless; one inclusive and beneficial to the local people. Read more

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This project was successfully funded on January 23, 2011.

Two decidedly different stories of conservation in Africa: one absolutely ruthless; one inclusive and beneficial to the local people.

About this project

We're nearly done filming The Killing Seasons. We need your help to finish up!

You can get a taste of the film from the trailer posted above. To see a longer version, go to

We recently had to describe our film in 25 words. This is what we came up with: Can wildlife conservation efforts go too far? Two white families. Two African stories. Two vastly different approaches: one ruthless, one collaborative. Two startlingly different outcomes.

Producer John Antonelli came across both of these stories as part of his ongoing work with the Goldman Environmental Foundation. Since 2004, John and his colleagues at the Mill Valley Film Group have traveled around the world to produce video profiles of all the recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. Each year, the profiles are shown at the award ceremony and then broadcast across the country on PBS and the Sundance Channel.

While all of the Goldman winners have amazing stories, John was particularly moved by the story of Hammer Simwinga, who won the prize in 2007 for his work protecting the wildlife of northern Zambia. Through great personal effort – and risk -- he is turning poachers into ex-poachers by teaching them sustainable, more responsible ways to make a living, such as beekeeping and sunflower oil production.

Simwinga travels for hundreds of miles a week either on foot or by bicycle to remote villages to deliver supplies and facilitate workshops. He’s continuing and building upon the work begun more than 20 years ago by Mark and Delia Owens, an American couple who documented the alarming decline in the area’s elephant herds due to poaching and determined to do something about it.

Their work with park rangers and local communities, and Simwinga’s subsequent herculean efforts to single-handedly keep the program alive has led to a remarkable change in attitude among the villagers and a dramatic rebound in the area’s elephant population.

John feels this is a story that deserves a longer treatment. He returned to Zambia twice to capture spectacular footage of the wildlife of North Luangwa National Park and of participants in Simwinga’s program utilizing the skills they’ve learned. He also videotaped extensive interviews with Mark and Delia Owens in San Francisco. He has access to the original footage he shot for the Goldman video, plus there is a wealth of professional quality film archival material chronicling the Owens’ African adventures over the years that is available from National Geographic and other organizations.

The original plan was to produce a documentary strictly covering the story of Hammer Simwinga and the Owenses. Then John met Thuli Brilliance Makama.

Makama is the only public interest environmental lawyer in the entire country of Swaziland. She won the Goldman Prize in 2010 for her work to insure that local people can play a part in the country’s environmental decision-making process. The bigger story surrounding Makama is almost the opposite of what’s been happening in Zambia with the Owenses and Hammer Simwinga.

Swaziland has become a major destination for big game hunters and wildlife viewers. A private company called Big Game Parks (which also owns game reserves and manages a national park in Swaziland) has assumed absolute authority in enforcing the country’s Game Act. The owners of Big Game Parks -- Ted Reilly and his family – actually wrote the Game Act!

Instead of involving local villagers in conservation efforts, the Reillys have practically declared war on them. They’ve evicted people from lands they had occupied for generations. They have allegedly murdered approximately 100 people suspected of poaching, in some cases coming to their homes and shooting them in front of their families. Under the Game Act, the Reillys’ rangers are immune from prosecution as long as they are “protecting game.”

Thuli Makama is representing villagers against Big Game Parks, and she’s trying to get the immunity provision struck from the Game Act as unconstitutional. She and her staff continue their work year after year despite threats to their safety.

John saw in Makama’s efforts another story that needed to be told in more detail to a wider audience. And he saw it as a perfect contrast to the Zambia story. In both countries, poverty was the underlying problem that led to the poaching issue. In Zambia, an inclusive, community-based, sustainable model was developed, and it is succeeding. In Swaziland, while the wildlife is doing well, nearly 60 percent of the people are living in poverty. It’s an unacceptable and unsustainable situation.

We've got all the footage we need for the Zambian part of the story; we're seeking your help to return to Swaziland for a final round of filming there. We're saving a great deal on travel expenses by piggybacking this shoot onto a trip we're taking to another part of Africa for a different project, which is why our goal amount is relatively small for a film of this scope. And anything we raise beyond our goal will be used for post production of the film.

Please help us, both with your financial support and by spreading the word about this film to your friends and family.

Thank you for helping us get these important stories out to the world!

By the way, in case you're new to Kickstarter, the way it works is you pledge whatever level of support you're comfortable with and provide your billing info at the time of the pledge. You're not billed unless we meet our fundraising goal. And assuming we meet our goal, you won't be billed until the end of the fundraising period.

Contributions of at least $100 can be tax-deductible. Please alert us if you want it to be tax-deductible and we will funnel your contribution through our 501(c)(3) fiscal agent, The Animal Fund, and we will provide you with a receipt.


Have a question? If the info above doesn't help, you can ask the project creator directly.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    24 backers

    Project updates and your name added to our list of angels on THE KILLING SEASONS Facebook page.

  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    20 backers

    The above plus a special GLOBAL FOCUS DVD featuring 5 years of compelling profiles of environmental heroes, narrated by Robert Redford and including the original stories about Hammer Simwinga and Thuli Makama that inspired us to make "The Killing Seasons."

  • You selected
    Pledge $85 or more

    14 backers

    The above plus MONKEY FRUIT ORNAMENT hand painted in Zambia -- part of Hammer Simwinga's sustainable trades project, as featured in the film.

  • You selected
    Pledge $150 or more

    18 backers

    The above plus an INVITATION TO A PRIVATE SCREENING of the film in the San Francisco Bay area.

  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    1 backer

    The above plus a SPECIAL THANKS CREDIT in the film.

  • You selected
    Pledge $3,000 or more

    1 backer

    The above plus producer John Antonelli will come to your hometown and provide a PRIVATE SCREENING FOR YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS (U.S. only).

  • You selected
    Pledge $10,000

    0 backers

    The above plus a TRIP TO ZAMBIA to visit South Luangwa National Park and stay at the Mfuwe Lodge, where wild elephants roam through the lobby. Also visit North Luangwa to meet Hammer Simwinga and see some of his projects firsthand. Includes airfare, all meals, safari guide, 3 nights at the Mfuwe Lodge and 4 nights modest accommodations in North Luangwa.

Funding period

- (30 days)