Review: Superb Doc 'Wildcat' Takes Us on a Journey of Love & Healing
by Alex Billington
December 22, 2022
Two of the best documentaries of 2022 are films set in the jungles of South America. The first is a doc from Sundance 2022 called The Territory (read my review), about a tribe of Natives defending their land from invading "farmers" in Brazil who are coming in and slashing/burning the rainforest they live in. The second one, titled Wildcat, initially premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and is launching on Amazon Prime Video for viewing at the end of December this year. Wildcat is co-directed by filmmakers Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh and it's a beautiful little film about the relationship between a wild ocelot being rescued in the jungles of Peru, and a young Australian man struggling to deal with intense PTSD and depression. In both films, the big bad villain is capitalism and humans addicted to taking resources without any care or concern for Mother Nature or the land they're stealing the resources from. They're evil schmucks, every one of them.
Wildcat is a very tender film that is less about nature itself, more about the connection we have as human beings with nature. The story introduces us to two important people - Harry Turner and conservationist Samantha Zwicker. At the start, Sam is running a small conservation and rescue facility in the Peruvian jungles, collecting and rehabilitating various animals that end up there as refugees due to all the logging and earth-moving activities nearby. Harry is just a lost young man, nearly still a boy, who finds himself in these jungles working for this rescue group after a horrible experience being sent to Afghanistan as a soldier when he was only 18 years old. Everything changes when they bring in a baby ocelot found by loggers. An ocelot is a wild cat that is not as big as a leopard, but not as small as a house cat, living alone in the jungles as a carnivore eating other smaller animals. Harry gets attached to the little guy and they work on a program to help the baby ocelot grow up before it is re-released into the wild rather than domesticated or sent to a zoo.
In addition to endless lovely footage of these two people raising the baby ocelot, there's a wonderful score by Patrick Jonsson that adds extra emotion to the storytelling while never getting in the way of the authentic emotions captured on camera. It's one of these alluring, entrancing films that you can't stop watching the moment it starts. Especially knowing how oblivious we are towards nature and how disconnected we are, it speaks to those of us sitting at home watching from our couches. It offers a way to understand how nature plays such an important part in our lives, and how as human beings need to find that connection again to heal & grow. We're alienating this part of ourselves. Not only do so many struggle with the inability to deal with this side of ourselves, we're literally stamping it out. And this will really ruin us, if it hasn't already. Cutting out this part of our humanity, our own animal nature, will lead to disastrous consequences. This is a film that can remind us to take that time and effort to reconnect, to give it all up just to save one wild kitty.
I sincerely hope others will watch this doc and not just think, oh it's a cute cat, or oh such a sweet story, but to actually think and appreciate animals as creatures that are equal to us. We're all part of this world, we're all a part of this big ecosystem. And hopefully it might inspire someone to rethink their life and do more – more for themselves, more for animals, more for this planet. Because we're clearly not doing enough. The film isn't just the story of Harry and Sam, or the story of baby ocelots being rescued in South America. The filmmakers carefully craft a narrative built around the metaphor of rehabilitation - it's not just the wild cat who is being rehabilitated. It's a touching film about healing, recovery, and love. Showing how love and care can not only heal those who desperately need support, but it can heal everyone else around, too. It's not just about conservation, it's about how saving these lives of the animals can save the lives of human beings, too.
This is the lesson so many need to learn and take on in their own way, without being pushed, with humility and grace. Working for animals and helping care for the planet actually gives value to our actions, to the lives we live. Helping someone, and helping animals especially, is such a different way to live on this world, and it gives us something to truly live for, to feel like we've made a difference in our lives. This is what keeps Harry going, this is what works deep within him to help untangle his PTSD and provide a path for him to recover, step by step. My only gripe with Wildcat is with the way it handles the romance between Sam and Harry. It's an important part of the story, obviously considering it's about both of them, but since it's not the actual story being told it gets a bit lost in the mix with the rest of the narrative. Aside from that, everything else about this outstanding film makes it one of the most endearing and inspiring documentaries from 2022.
Alex's Rating: 9 out of 10
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