Silent Forests

A rare glimpse inside the forest elephant poaching crisis

Silent Forests More than half of the Central-African forest elephant population has been decimated by poachers in the last decade. Following one of Cameroon’s first female eco-guards, a grassroots law enforcement group, a Congolese biologist, a reformed poacher and a Czech activist, this intimate portrait gains remarkable access to an under-reported region, the Congo Basin, to understand the global poaching and ivory trade crises we face.

Silent Forests (2019) on IMDb


LaurelThe 2020 World Wildlife Day Film Showcase - Award Winner
LaurelBig Sky Documentary Film Festival - Feature Competition Finalist
LaurelSanta Barbara International Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelBrooklyn Film Festival - Spirit Award Winner
LaurelTaos Environmental Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelMelbourne Documentary Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelDC Environmental Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelSan Francisco Green Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelFreeland Film Fest - Official Selection
LaurelMatsalu Nature Film Fest, Estonia - Official Selection
LaurelRwanda Film Festivala - Nominated Best Documentary
LaurelAfrican International Film Festival - Nominated Best Documentary

Reviews and More

This powerful documentary expertly highlights the need for wildlife conservation and the strengthening of law enforcement efforts. It is a powerful example of our intrisic relationship with the planet and resonates globally, in a refreshing and deeply meaningful way.” – One World Media
...succeeds in bringing us closer to the reality of the crisis, rescuing it from the realm of abstraction.” – Santa Barbara Independent

...Casts an understated yet heroic glow over the people fighting elephant poaching at the forefront... Tempers one’s feelings of anger and injustice with a sense of hope that the people of the region are up for the fight.” – Screen Space

A heart-rending but hope-inspiring documentary.” – Supamodu

Watch a Q&A with director Mariah Wilson and producer/cinematographer Zebediah Smith at Santa Barbara International Film Festival here.

Listen to Mariah speaking about the film on the Creative Cast Podcast here.

Read an interview with Mariah on Directed By Women here.

Watch our Q&A with director Mariah Wilson on the making of her film here.

To learn more and support the conservationists, head to the film's website here.

The Producers

Mariah Wilson - Producer/Director/Writer

Mariah has produced content for PBS, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, A&E, Animal Planet, History Channel, Weather Channel, MSNBC, VICE, Vocativ, Google, and The Smithsonian Institution. Her films include Revealing Hate (2010, “Courageous Filmmaking” award, Durango Film Festival) which explores the white supremacist movement in America, Volunteer (2012) follows an eco-volunteering journey in Uganda and Fiji, Kaziranga (2016, Humane Society ACE Award/Grant) examines rhino poaching in India, and Eeya (2017, National Geographic “Wildlife Watch”). Her current film Silent Forests is about the fight to save forest elephants from ivory trafficking in Africa’s Congo Basin. It received the Telluride Mountainfilm Commitment Grant, was featured in IFP Spotlight on Docs, Hot Docs Deal Makers and DOC NYC Pro, and has shown at Santa Barbara Film Festival, DCEFF, Big Sky Doc Fest (Finalist – Feature Competition), and Brooklyn Film Festival (Spirit Award). As a producer, Mariah has worked on Andrew Berends’ Madina’s Dream (SXSW, Sarasota, IFC Stranger Than Fiction, Telluride Mountainfilm), and Windy Borman’s Mary Janes (Woodstock, Mill Valley, Wild and Scenic).

Zebediah Smith - Director of Photography/Co-Producer/Editor

Zebediah is an Emmy Award-winning cinematographer who has filmed for Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, Oxygen, Sundance Channel, Investigation Discovery (Hate In America, Black and Blue), and PBS (Travelscope). On the branded content side, he has worked with clients such as Google, Toyota and Virgin America. He has filmed in over 30 countries while trekking the Himalayas, joining tribal rituals in the high Andes, and communing with Gorillas in Rwandan jungles. At home in the U.S., Zebediah co-produced and edited the Sundance Documentary Fund winner “Whatever It Takes,” which won Audience Awards and Grand Jury Prizes at festivals across the US for its intimate, character-driven cinéma vérité style. He looks forward to continuing to be a part of in-depth productions that inspire, inform, and entertain audiences worldwide.

Making The Film

Director's Statement

"Silent Forests will be my third film that has to do with wildlife crime and illegal trade; it is a subject I am both passionate about and familiar with. My hope is that this documentary will shed light on the severity of the situation in central Africa, and how damaging the ivory trade is for all species -- humans included. I want audiences to leave Silent Forests with a realistic look at what its like to be on the frontlines of conservation in this region day to day… including the dangers, the rewards, the frustrations – and how good efforts are riddled with challenges from dishonest and inept government entities.

One unique thing about this film is that three of the four main characters are from either Cameroon or Congo. So this isn't just a story about figures from the international conservationist community going to save Africa's wildlife. This is about African activists, scientists, and eco-guards and who care deeply about what is happening in their own backyards. The very nature of their work can oftentimes put them at odds with their fellow countrymen, and the risks they assume to protect the animals of the Congo Basin are significant.

A way in which I hope Silent Forests will help to transform discourse around the subject of poaching is through telling the story of someone who used to be involved in the ivory trade. I think that the viewpoint of a person who has been on the poaching side will bring nuance to an issue that is normally seen as very black-and-white. Former poacher Jean Paul’s story will hopefully allow viewers to see that those at the bottom level of this criminal trade are not just terrible people who have a bloodlust for slaughtering elephants, but that they are driven to commit an extreme and awful act by grinding and endemic poverty. The regret expressed by Jean Paul represents an often-unheard perspective, and his anti-poaching “support” group highlights one unique solution to the problem of poaching – rehabilitating former poachers by offering them alternate forms of income, and getting them involved on the anti-poaching side with financial incentives.

The eventual goal of this project is to invoke a sense of urgency about the plight of the forest elephant, and to show the root causes that keep poaching as problematic as it currently is in Africa -- poverty and corruption. My desire is for SILENT FORESTS to educate the public about this overlooked elephant subspecies, and engage audiences to support groups dedicated to ending the forest elephant poaching epidemic before it’s too late."

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