Hillary Clinton and Kathryn Bigelow Took The Stage Together at Tribeca. Here’s Why.

By  · Published on April 23rd, 2017

Clinton joined the panel moderated by Kathryn Bigelow at the premiere of the National Geographic VR short ‘The Protectors.’

National Geographic/Anthony Behar

It’s vast. It challengingly takes place not only in Tribeca but also all over New York City. And yes, this young festival, born 16 years ago to revitalize and rejuvenate Downtown Manhattan in the wake of 9/11 lacks a much-needed artistic focus. But let’s give credit where credit’s due: when Tribeca scores, it scores. This year, the star-studded, richer-than-ever line-up of Tribeca Talks –an annual segment of the festival that unites filmmakers, artists and storytellers of all stripes through thought-provoking discussions– includes the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand, Alejandro G. Iñarritu and Lena Dunham, among others. And yesterday night, it played host to a previously unannounced, surprise guest, undoubtedly the series’ most special and high profile: Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Aptly programmed on Earth Day, yesterday’s VR event premiered the Virtual Reality documentary short The Protectors: A Walk in the Ranger’s Shoes, a collaboration between the Oscar winning director Kathryn Bigelow and director Imraan Ismail. Backed by National Geographic, Here Be Dragons, Megan Ellison’s Annapurna Pictures and the non-profit conservation organization African Parks and shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo, The Protectors vividly charts a regular day in the life of Garamba national Park rangers and puts their high-risk efforts to prevent elephant poaching and slaughtering on vivid, immersive display.

Following the VR premiere during which approximately 250 audience members watched and experienced the documentary short (those of you who’ve never experienced VR: it’s like scuba-diving into a different world where no one can see you and it’s not necessarily claustrophobia-friendly), Kathryn Bigelow moderated a panel where Clinton and director Ismail were joined by National Geographic’s Rachel Webber (Executive Vice President of Digital Product) and African Parks Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Heydlauf.

National Geographic/Anthony Behar

Clinton, who in 2013 launched a partnership with “Save the Elephants” alongside her daughter Chelsea Clinton through the Clinton Global Initiative, voiced her pride of the conservation efforts backed by the Obama administration and reminded the crowd that under President Obama, the United States passed a near federal ban on the transportation and interstate trafficking of ivory. “We had 3 overriding goals,” Clinton said. “Stop the killing. Stop the trafficking. Stop the demand. And a part of that is protecting these rangers.” Clinton, who later on tweeted about yesterday’s event, told the audience that while China is the worldwide lead in illegal ivory, United States is a close second and stressed the importance of supporting organizations like African Parks and others with a similar mission. “We are marching on behalf of science on Earth Day,” she remarked. “Part of science is understanding the intricate relationships we share with all those who are on this planet, in particular with large mammals like elephants.” She continued, “As critical as this problem is, there have been a lot of good efforts made at local, regional, national and international levels to try to address it.”

Moderator and co-creator Bigelow said she was drawn to this project because she noticed there was a correlation between poaching and terrorism. “The biggest challenge that Imraan and I faced when making this film was [identifying] how to activate the audience,” she indicated, noting that taking it a step further from being informative and engaging the viewer on an immediate level was their ultimate aim. “We used VR to put people into a very active relationship with the subject.” Ismail agreed, underscoring once again how selfless the rangers are in their work. “The challenges, threats, dangers the rangers face each day are almost insurmountable,” he said. “They’re outmanned and outgunned. They’re putting themselves in the line of fire. As long as there are elephants, these rangers will just keep on doing it.”

Heydlauff reminded the audience that if the killing rate continues at the same pace, elephants can go extinct in approximately a decade (According to an estimate, only about 400,000 African elephants are remaining today.) She said their area is the ground zero in the poaching war. “We have been holding the front since 2015. These rangers are providing a connection for communities surrounding the parks,” she continued. “Their families and friends see the direct benefit of what they are doing.”

Nat Geo’s Webber stressed the evolving mission of National Geographic, in a world where more than 30,000 African elephants are killed every year by poachers and reminded the audience that they are assuming a more conservationist role in these efforts. “With this specific piece, we all unite around this specific mission,” she said, adding that VR makes the audience a part of the conversation and conservation like no other medium could. “We need to continue pushing the boundaries of taking people on this journey.”

Freelance writer and film critic based in New York. Bylines at Film Journal, Time Out NY, Movie Mezzanine, Indiewire, and others.