Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leopard Family's African Saga Gets Hollywood Touch for TBS

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leopard Family's African Saga Gets Hollywood Touch for TBS

Article excerpt

As nature specials go, Living with Leopards is a kind of

strange beast. Part documentary, part staged drama, it

showcases dramatic footage from the wild as it also tells

stories about these solitary big cats. (The two-hour film makes

its debut at 9 p.m. Sunday on TBS.)

At times, the Hollywood influences get in the way. Take, for

example, the continual shots of journalist/photographer Gillian

van Houten in perfect makeup and stylish safari costumes. And,

try as they might, neither van Houten or filmmaker John Varty

are convincing actors.

But their amateur thespian ambitions aside, both "leads" in

this edition of Wild! Life Adventures pull off an entertaining

two hours with plenty of information and breathtaking visuals to

keep viewers interested.

It should be noted that Living with Leopards is not for very

young children and the easily squeamish. In tracking leopards in

Africa's Londolozi Game Reserve, Varty, van Houten and their

guide, Elmon Mhlongo, encounter survival of the fittest in its

starkest, and sometimes most gruesome, forms. Scene after scene

shows these deadly predators pouncing and feeding on their prey.

Shot over a period of years, Living with Leopards begins with

an introduction to Varty and Mhlongo and their work on the banks

of the Nayatini River. It is there that they hope to track the

life of an adult female leopard they call simply "The Mother."

Van Houten, who joined the two in 1990, was a former news anchor

and talk show host in South Africa. Her job is to help them

document their research.

Obviously, much of the storytelling is told using re-creations

of their actions and reactions. It is here that the two hours

can get a bit off-putting. Fortunately, the group has enough

film footage to make the narrative seamless overall.

One by one, viewers are introduced to members of Mother's

family. There's Ngwazi, who was named "Brave One" after she

unsuccessfully challenged Mother for her territory. Later, she

and her cubs contracted sychoptic mange, with fatal results. It

was the experience of watching these deaths that prompted Varty

and his colleagues to help Lula, Ngwazi's half-sister, who also

was afflicted with the deadly parasite.

Viewers watch as tragedies and triumphs strike other members of

this leopard family. The Warthog Male, named after his favorite

meal, is killed by hunters. Tsakisa, a cheerful male cub, is

pulled from his den by a lion and killed. In one piece of

fascinating footage, Varty captures Mother tending to the slain

cub and eventually burying body parts. Yet, later that night,

she calls for him, as if not associating his burial and death.

As if scripted for such a narrative, events surrounding

Mother's own death give closure and additional poignance. …

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