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Buffalo Niagara Film Festival: Selected Reviews


Set in San Borja, Bolivia, Lion Ark details the rescue efforts of the Animal Defenders International team in South America after their undercover work unearthed shocking findings regarding the inhuman treatment of animals, which led to Bolivia’s ban of circuses. Despite the new legislation, only one circus handed over their animals while the others defied the law. The resulting efforts of the Animal Defenders International team, and their interactions with the Lions and other animals, is documented in director Tim Phillips fascinating and entertaining film. The harsh conditions and daily abuses the lions are subjected to, captured in incredibly raw fashion, are enough to anger even those that don’t have much interest in animal rights. Lion Ark nearly carries the tension of a thriller as the efforts of the ADI team to track down the animals and free them from the circuses unfolds with a degree of excitement comparable to the best fiction. Still, there’s no mistaking the authenticity of Phillips’ team’s footage. Lion Ark puts you right up close and personal with the magnificent lions, the real stars of the picture. The end result is an absorbing study in how the bold humanitarian efforts of a compassionate few prompted a small, struggling country to make major political changes for the safety and ethical needs of animals.


Director Hilarion Banks’ thriller Three Holes and a Smoking Gun stars 21-year old Zuher Khan (who also produced the film) as Jack, an aspiring young screenwriter in New York City who dreams of being the next Quentin Tarantino. Under the tutelage of his screenwriting teacher, himself a washed up Hollywood reject, Bobby (James Wilder, in an outstanding performance), Jack claims to have penned a script which ranks among the best Bobby has ever read. Bobby sees getting Jack’s script produced as his best and last chance at his Hollywood dreams coming true— unfortunately Jack didn’t write the screenplay. This sets into motion a violent series of events as unpredictable as anything in a Hollywood movie. The film features remarkably assured production values for a smaller project, thanks to Banks’ confident direction, while screenwriter Scott Fivelson’s script does a good job at poking fun at genre conventions while realizing the material in exciting fashion. The real standout of Three Holes and a Smoking Gun, however, is James Wilder, who recently won the Best Actor award at the Red Dirt International Film Festival as well as an Independent Spirit Award at the Garden State International Film Festival for his work in the film.

For more info on the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival and a schedule of showings, including Lion Ark and Three Holes and a Smoking Gun, visit

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