Scene from “The Last Lions” (40136)

The documentary “the Last Lions” premiered in New York at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas last Thursday. The film, about a pride of lions living in Botswana in dwindling numbers, weaves an intriguing narrative through some of the most beautiful imagery captured of the wild.

The film opens with shocking statistics about the number of lions still in the wild, which has dropped from 450,000 in the 1960s to around 20,000 just 50 years later. In the Okavango wilderness of Botswana, we follow the devastating tale of life and loss of lone lioness Ma di Tau and her pride of three cubs. Shot by wildlife veterans Dereck and Beverly Joubert and narrated by Academy Award-winner Jeremy Irons, “the Last Lions” is a striking combination of fantastic filmmaking and a heartbreaking true story.

An enemy pride attacks Ma di Tau and her mate, leaving him “old, damaged and broken” on the plains, as narrated by Irons in one of a few overly dramatized and unnecessarily personified scenes. The tragedy in Ma di Tau’s story is easy to see even with the knowledge that there is no bad guy in nature, without saturating the story with presumptuous and, at times, corny narration. A testament to the dedication of the filming is displayed in this scene however, when the audience watches Ma di Tau’s mate, with his paws folded beneath him, take his last breath.

The Jouberts and their editing staff continue to impress, capturing breathtaking vistas and events. The sunsets are rich blends of red and orange that melt into each other. The lions are saturated in deep darks and yellows, splashing through the water like dark shadows in molten copper. White birds, iridescent and bright, contrast with the dimming sky and the ever-dimmer buffalo alongside which they bathe. The captured colors of the wild are so intense and engaging that each scene of the film could stand as its own portrait.

The Jouberts have been filming in the wild for almost 28 years, and as such are no neophytes to the one rule they must abide by to maintain honesty: Do not interfere.

“We’ve grown with the cubs,” said Beverly Joubert, “becoming part of their world,” but she and her husband knew they had to maintain the necessary boundaries.

“If the animal looks at us, we’ve failed once,” said Dereck Joubert after the screening. “If it engages us, we’ve failed twice.”

The only type of problem the Jouberts will interfere in are man-made ones. One of the premises of making “the Last Lions” was to bring awareness to the diminishing population of big cats in the world due to poaching and increasing civilization.

“Your children, when they’re ready to go to safari, are not going to see lions,” said Dereck Joubert. “In 10 to 15 years, lions are going to be extinct.”

Since the production of the film Botswana has stopped lion hunting, something Kenya had prohibited long ago. The Jouberts hope that the remainder of African countries with lion populations will follow in their tracks.