Project Description

The Buenos Aires Zoo has a long history of 141 years. It opened in 1875 and cared for 2,500 animals. But on December 26th, 2012, a day after Christmas, a death occurs. Winner, the mascot, and superstar of the zoo died from firecracker sounds and a malfunctioning air conditioner. Many mourned Winner’s death and people began to expose the poor conditions zoo animals were raised in. ‘Animal rights’ took over the headlines and the Buenos Aires Zoo came under scrutiny.

The Argentinian court demanded an improvement in living conditions for animals. Argentina was now at the frontline of action for animal rights.
In June 2016, Horacio, the mayor of Buenos Aires announced the zoo’s shutdown and its transformation into a park. It was an unprecedented decision. Media worldwide praised Argentina for the first closure of a zoo in the name of animal rights. Some said it was a new era of overcoming man’s brutal practices of caging animals. A series of actions were taken to prepare the animals to be released into the wild. Animals were trained to hunt and adapt to their new environment. A natural habitat was created for the animals to re-establish the relationship between men and animals. An end was coming to 141 years of caging animals in a zoo.

But some argues zoo animals could not be trained for the wilderness. The zoo’s plan to release the animals is postponed time after time. Multiple public hearings take place but it is hard to come to a conclusion. In early 2017, an elephant at the zoo comes close to injury from stepping on nails in the sand area. The police even investigate the zoo. The controversy continues. Some argue the animals must be released as soon as possible, while others think it requires more time. Will the animals be able to return to nature at the end of all this?

Producer  SONA JO
Length 52′
Shooting Format UHD | 3840X2160 | 24P
Language Spanish
Subtitles English | Korean
Starting Date of Shooting April 2017
Delivery Date Nov 2018
With Support Of Korea Radio Promotion Association | K-DOCS (Korea) | Foundation For Broadcast Culture (Korea)
In Progress 70%
CURRENT STATUS:  Shooting (70%), Editing (50%) 

Director’s Note

I first learned about the Buenos Aires Zoo in November of 2016. I was at the Mar del Plata International Movie Festival to present the documentary “Reach for the Sky”. The Argentinian director and staff members were constantly discussing the “decision of the century” — do animals  have rights? I even heard that in the past, native South Americans were displayed in the same zoo.
It was not my first time hearing about animal rights. South Korea had its own incidents. I decided to produce this movie when I realized that humans could make ultimate decisions for a species that wasn’t their own. South Korean zoos had begun documenting animal behavior, and Argentina’s dilemma was one we would face in the future.
Can humans truly empathize with animals? How do we understand another species’ emotions?
Harriet Beecher Stowe once said she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin because she pitied runaway slaves being punished. This ‘pity’ was revolutionary in a time when slaves were considered a possession.

Pity arises when we place ourselves in the other’s shoes. Empathy begins when we imagine ourselves in their situation. What if we applied this empathy to animals? After countless controversy, slavery was abolished and mankind faced a new era. Maybe the Buenos Aires Zoo could similarly lead the way to another new era.
The Buenos Aires Zoo was shut down in June 2016. Citizens could no longer visit as the zoo prepared to release the animals. Various animal rights organizations, academics, and staff members of the zoo discussed the future of the animals. The issue was politicized in Argentina, which made it difficult to receive permission to film inside the zoo. With Judge Elena’s help we became the first foreign press to be permitted into the zoo this year. In October 2017 we will begin our second round of filming surrounding elephant Mara’s release into the wild. We are documenting the zoo’s every step with the local production team.

-Director, Wooyoung Choi