Timothy Wheeler’s beautifully shot but tonally confusing documentary Poached unfolds from an unusual perspective — that of the villains.
Here, they are four convicted hunters of rare-bird eggs and one active hunter from the United Kingdom who in turn celebrate the “craft” of egg hunting and offer penance for their crimes. Interviews with the hunters offer insight into their psychology, which proves as convoluted as the film’s message.
Most interesting is John Kinsley, a former poacher with plans to write a book about his past before shrugging it off to live as Ben Tarvie, dedicated father and bird photographer. In one scene, Kinsley ushers his crying six-year-old son through a taxonomy museum to explain how wrong it is to kill animals. In another, he’s pleading with a representative from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to let him keep an egg collection that predates the U.K.’s poaching laws. The rep’s reaction echoes that of the audience: “Why on earth would he do that?”
Kinsley is hyperaware of how he comes across to viewers, asking the filmmakers often for permission to repeat his prepared lines. These takes and other scenes are scored by what sound like corny themes from 1960s detective shows, and Kinsley demonstrating how to remove an egg’s yolk to preserve its shell is shot as a parodic 1950s PSA. At times the comic tone undercuts the hunters’ pleas to be taken seriously. But mostly it raises the question of how seriously the filmmakers take poaching.
Directed by Timothy Wheeler
Opens October 9, Village East Cinema