Black Mambas (Sydney Film Festival) – Film Review

Being an active wildlife warrior myself, this was one documentary that I didn’t want to miss at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.

I first became aware of the Black Mambas and the work that they do several years ago in another doco, but sadly back then they were only just mentioned. Luckily Black Mambas doesn’t do the same and instead explores the important work that these brave women do.

For the unaware, the Black Mambas are a highly trained team of ‘security guards’ that are hired to patrol and protect the animals of the Greater Krueger National Park in South Africa. The Mambas’ main role is to make sure that neither hunters nor poachers can make their way into the National Park to kill or harm any of the animals that call it home. What makes this crack squad even more intriguing is the fact that it is made up of solely of women.

Directed by Lena Karbe, Black Mambas doesn’t just celebrate the fine work that this team do, it goes deeper than that and not only shows the hard training they are put through, but also explores the lifestyle changes that the women who make up the Mambas go through to take on the job.

The area around the National Park is crippled with poverty and it was quite a wakeup call for me to watch and learn how becoming a Mamba changes these women’s lives. Often the women find that their families don’t want them to do the job because it is dangerous, and also some people with rather extreme views see them as going against their own culture, as they stop traditional hunters from getting access to animals for food.

In fact, that is one of the most memorable moments that Karbe manages to capture with the film. Many directors would solely keep the focus of this documentary on the bravery of the Mambas, but Karbe goes away from that at one stage and actually interviews a hunter who feels that the Mambas are one of the reasons why his family goes hungry. He eloquently puts it by saying, “God provided these animals for our food and it is my right to hunt them”.

It is moments like these throughout the film that made me stop and think about what is really happening here, and likewise I found myself drawn into the film as Karbe showed the home-life of one of the Mambas who has a husband that seems to have taken on an element of laziness due to the fact that his wife is support him with her wage.

Nonetheless, Black Mambas allows its audiences the opportunity to get a good look into the lifestyle of the Mambas, and Karbe shows maturity as a director by showing the audience both the positives and negatives of that lifestyle.

Black Mambas is well worth a look if you are interested in documentaries, passionate animal welfare, and love seeing stories about strong women who have overcome the environment around them to empower themselves.

Black Mambas has limited screenings in Australia as part of the 2022 Sydney Film Festival.
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