- Movie Credits
- About the Film
- Casting the Lions
- The Filmakers
- About the Storyteller
According to the legend of the Shangaan, white lions are the messengers of the gods, but
it has been years since one has been seen in their remote African valley.
When a white lion is miraculously born into that valley, a young Shangaan named Gisani,
finds himself destined to protect this rare and magnificent creature at all costs.
This young lion, whom will be known as Letsatsi, is cast from his pride and forced to
embark upon a perilous journey of survival.
Close to starvation, Letsatsi befriends Nkulu, an older lion and together they learn how to
survive in the harsh African wilderness
Gisani, who is watching over Letsatsi, takes a job as a tracker with a local hunter, who has
his sights set on leading the hunt for this rare and magnificent white lion. Gisani, guided by
fate, believes that he must find a way to prevent this tragedy from happening.
When Nkulu is killed by a farmer, Letsatsi is forced once again to survive on his own. After
many trials and tribulations he finally learns to hunt by himself and grows into a
But before he can take over a pride of his own, Letsatsi and Gisani must face their
greatest challenge - the trophy hunter- for whom legends are worthless and rare skins
WHITE LION…home is a journey.
CAST (In Alphabetical Order)
||AJ VAN DER MERWE
LAUREN DAS NEVES
|Gisani Stunt Double
PARTICIPATING WHITE LIONS
PARTICIPATING TAWNY LIONS
||RODNEY & ILANA FUHR
|Director & Cinematographer
|Screenplay Written By
||JANET VAN EEDEN
|Narration Written By
|Additional Scenes Written By
||BRIDGETTE FAHEY GOLDSMITH
A dream that became a film…
WHITE LION was shot on location, at The Kingdom of the White Lion, an enterprise 50 miles outside of the city of Johannesburg, along the Crocodile River, established especially for this film. This marks the first production – entirely about lions – starring ‘real’ lions from South Africa. “To date most lion pictures shot in South Africa, have seen the import of trained lions,” says Producer and Lion Wrangler, Kevin Richardson. “Our lions look great… they’re lean, mean and heroic – not spoiled, fat and lazy.”
The picture is the long-time dream of one of the owners of the Johannesburg Lion Park, Rodney Fuhr, who served as Executive Producer alongside his wife Ilana. Fuhr independently funded the movie, and filming was approached in a fairly unconventional manner. Richardson recalled, “WHITE LION has been a long time coming and was Rodney’s vision, dating back to the early eighties. His original idea was to follow a tawny (normal colored) male lion cub from infancy to adulthood. Since then, it has obviously progressed to the stage where we are following a white lion and his journey. We switched from a tawny - probably to make our lives a little bit more difficult and more challenging! But, such an exquisite beast certainly makes for a much more powerful story. For me, the beauty of this film is its reality component and inherent simplicity.
I love the fact that Rodney’s story never allowed it to become too complicated and was always anchored in the realms of what could happen in the wilds of Africa. So although WHITE LION is a fictional feature film, and we have taken license on some issues, it is not beyond the scope of what could take place in the wild. The reality of what this little white lion endures, is quite real.” “In recent times, films of this nature, which are basically fictional animal films, have enjoyed great success,” observed Director/Cinematographer Michael Swan. “March of the Penguins is a good example of this, and our movie is very much of the same cloth, although not a documentary. WHITE LION also has a parallel human element, which is complimentary to the lions. It’s about the life of a lion (Letsatsi) from birth to his final triumph. A story of conflict and how our hero, Letsatsi overcomes it, just as a human story would be, but in this instance, about lions. That’s the challenge for us all, to tell a story without featuring too many people, with lions as the main characters. It’s a classic tale, with similarities to Jean Jacques-Annaud’s acclaimed The Bear. The parameters, set by Rodney Fuhr, were stringent and incredibly difficult to achieve. We had to represent authentic wild lion behavior and the challenge was to tell the story entirely through the action of the lions. It isn’t The Lion King. No lips move and we aren’t relying entirely on animatronics, puppets, or visual effects.” Indeed, many people have suggested that WHITE LION is the real-life version of The Lion King.
WHITE LION features a minimum of human beings – criteria that was put in place to ensure the story was told entirely from the lions’ perspective.
“What you see is virtually written and in a sense directed by the lions,” continued Swan. “We allowed the lions to perform naturally, with guidance by the wranglers and although we had a script, scenes were not set in tablets of stone. Therefore some scenes had to be rewritten to accommodate the fantastic performances we were getting from the lions. Sometimes,” he jested. “I think they knew what the audiences would respond to better than we did!”
WHITE LION is a family adventure story that follows the life of a white lion, Letsatsi, who is born into a tawny pride in the wilds of Africa. His color difference makes life very difficult for him, forcing him to find his own way in the world, amidst numerous obstacles.
“It’s a film for all age groups,” said Richardson, “with every ingredient to be a runaway hit. And the cubs will pull at the heart strings of the most seasoned moviegoer.” Added Line Producer Carine Stander; “Simple films, such as this, are rarely made anymore, yet these are the films we adored as children, and the reason we fell in love with filmmaking. And aside from being a wonderful experience that the whole family can enjoy, a film such as WHITE LION affords an intimate view of these magnificent creatures, depicting them in a way that that has never before been captured on film.”
Filmed on location at the Kingdom of the White Lion, SA Lion Park, Nash’s Farm, Glen
Afric and Entabeni Game Reserve, photography on WHITE LION was completed in June
2008 with final post-production in December 2008 and is the first feature film from South
African-based company Peru Productions Pty. Ltd.
“The casting process was a tricky one,” recalled Richardson.
“As the original story was about a tawny lion, I had all my little tawnies, of all age-groups, lined-up, and then we got
the call saying, ‘Hang on a moment what would you say if we cast the main hero as a white lion!’ It made sense, but it also made my life a nightmare. We only had a few white
lions at the Lion Park, and our main hero white lion, an adult male, is probably the only completely workable one in the country. The two lions that we actually had to source, were
the lions needed to portray the teenage period of Letsatsi’s life. The lions we finally used were ‘Bruce’ and ‘Bravo’ who were aged just fourteen-months at the time.”
Richardson continued. “The difference between these lions and those in other movies or Hollywood productions, is that ours are not ‘trained’ lions; i.e. lions who can hit their
marks: stop there, sit down, lay, stay.
However, these lions will perform for two rewards; one is love and the second is meaty treats. Without those ingredients we wouldn’t have
had workable lions on the film. So, amazingly, many of the complicated scenes - very big wide shots of this little lion walking a huge distance toward camera - are accomplished
mainly because the lion loves and respects us, and not only because of the treat that he gets at the end. Scenes that were less complicated, were achieved where the lion was
aware that if he does what he’s asked, he’s going to get a little cube of meat, and if you’re a lion,” jested Richardson, “that’s very exciting!”
“With many other animal pictures produced,” explained Director and Cinematographer, Michael Swan, “the animals aren’t that tame and therefore not that easy to control.
However, with WHITE LION, all the lions we used were hand-reared and enjoyed a very good relationship with our three animal wranglers. They were very easy to work with, but it
was not always easy to persuade them do precisely what we wanted them to, which is the nature of anything involving animals or children!“
Ninety-eight percent of the lions on this production, except for ‘Bruce’ and ‘Bravo’, were either hand-reared by Kevin Richardson, or his two trainers. Richardson received Bruce
and Bravo at eight months; an age at which he would never usually start work with a lion. “But we had no choice,” explained Richardson, “so the process involved intense discipline,
interaction combined with much of love and care. We had a daily regime and the lions
have subsequently performed beyond my wildest expectations.”
The filmmakers employed both tawny and white lions of all ages to depict the phases the
film’s four-legged characters go through, with the youngest aged from just a week to eightweeks.
Up to sixty lions were used to depict the various age groups of the key lions and
supporting lions that appear in the film. “The lions’ ages were very specific to the story,”
explained Richardson, as we needed to illustrate the various phases of Letsatsi’s life.
However, lions grow so quickly, that a lion, who may have been perfectly sized for
shooting one day, no longer was by the following week.”
RODNEY FUHR (Executive Producer)
Rodney Fuhr is a wildlife fanatic in his mid 60’s who has been deeply involved in
sponsoring lion research since the late 70’s.
"People have always seen adult male lions as the ‘king of the beasts’ with a pretty good life
in the pride, with a harem of females and plenty of food for him to eat, but very few have
actually seen what it takes for a young male lion to become a success and take over a
pride of his own. It’s a difficult journey and mortality of lion cubs can be as high as 80%. The ratio of males
to females born is 50:50. However, as one can see, the number of females in the bush far
outnumbers the males, which further illustrates just how treacherous the journey is for a
young male lion to become an adult. Add a further disadvantage like being white in color
and the odds of failure are compounded".
Rodney wanted this story told, and being a successful businessman, had the money to
finance the making of this film entirely by himself. It’s been a movie almost thirty years in
the making, which has finally has come to the big screen in all its splendor and glory.
KEVIN RICHARDSON (Producer, Presenter and Animal Behaviourist)
After graduating with a BSc in Anatomy and Physiology, Kevin began his career in postoperative
rehabilitation. He made a dramatic career switch when he met Rodney Fuhr and
started working at the Lion Park, ten years ago. Kevin spent two years filming for the Lion
Park and since then has made numerous commercials, ‘wrangling’ animals seen in
His feature film credits as an animal wrangler include Le Lion starring Alain Delon, and
Prey directed by Academy Award® nominee, Darrell Roodt (Yesterday). Kevin has also
executive produced and presented a number of documentaries distributed by National
Geographic; the two most recent being Dangerous Companions and Black Leopard – In
Search of a Legend. He has appeared on many news networks including CNN, SKY News, ABC News, NBC and has been featured in many prominent newspapers around
the world for his work and the extraordinarily close relationships he enjoys with animals.
Kevin’s book, "Part of the Pride" has just been published, and available on his website www.lionwhisperer.co.za
MICHAEL SWAN (Director and Cinematographer)
Michael’s career as a filmmaker spans more than twenty years. Today he is recognized as
one of South Africa’s most acclaimed cinematographers and 2nd Unit Directors. Among his
notable motion picture credits are, Cry, The Beloved Country distributed by Miramax,
Dangerous Ground for New Line Cinema, Tarzan and Jane for Village Roadshow, Second
Skin for Alliance Atlantis, The Groomsmen for Sony Pictures, Pavement and Borderline for
MPCA/Apollo Media, and Prey for Videovision Entertainment/Distant Horizon.
CARINE STANDER (Line Producer)
Carine has been involved in the film industry for 10 years, on both local and international
features. She has worked in production on such films as Racing Stripes, Zulu Love Letter,
Jozi-H and Darrell Roodt’s Faith’s Corner & Prey.
PHILIP MILLER (Composer)
Philip Miller is a South African composer who works, in film, video and live performance.
He has worked with some of the most innovative film makers to emerge from South Africa
in recent years, composing music for the soundtracks of many local and international films
and television productions, including the acclaimed and award –winning drama TV series
Yizo Yizo, directed by Oscar nominee Angus Gibson and Teboho Mahlatsi.
In 2004 and 2005, Miller completed the soundtracks to three new South African feature
films including Ian Gabriel’s Forgiveness, Teddy Mattera’s Max and Mona and Revel’s
Fox’s the Flyer, which has been shown at many international film festivals. For the film,
Forgiveness, he was awarded the Golden Horn for best soundtrack at the South African
Film and Television Awards. In 2006, Miller completed the soundtrack to the film Catch a Fire directed by the acclaimed
film director, Phillip Noyce released by Working Title Films.
Miller has worked with a wide range of video artists in South Africa. In particular, he has
collaborated extensively with the internationally acclaimed artist, William Kentridge
composing soundtracks to many of his animation films, which have screened around the
world, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum, New York, and
the Serpentine Gallery and Tate Modern in London. Some of the films, Miller has worked
on, are: Felix in Exile (1994), Weighing and Wanting (1996), Stereoscope (1999),
Medicine Chest (2000), and Journey to the Moon (2003).
BONSILE JOHN KANI (Storyteller)
Dr. John Kani (born 1943) is a celebrated South African actor and playwright best known
for his numerous performances in protest theatre during the apartheid years, including
Sizwe Bansi is Dead, Master Harold and the Boys, Saturday Night at the Palace, The
Island and My Children! My Africa!. Kani was born in New Brighton, South Africa. He joined The Serpent Players (a group of
actors whose first performance was in the former snake pit of the zoo, hence the name) in
Port Elizabeth in 1965 and helped to create many plays that went unpublished but were
performed to a resounding reception.
These were followed by the more famous Sizwe Banzi is Dead and The Island, co-written
with Athol Fugard and Winston Ntshona, in the early 1970s. He also received an Olivier
nomination for his role in My Children, My Africa!
Kani's work has been widely performed around the world, including New York, where he
and Winston Ntshona won a Tony Award in 1975 for Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island.
These two plays were presented in repertory at the Edison Theatre for a total of fifty-two
Nothing but the Truth (2002) was his debut as sole playwright and was first performed at
Market Theatre in Johannesburg. This play takes place in post-apartheid South Africa and
does not concern the conflicts between whites and blacks, but the rift between blacks who stayed in South Africa to fight apartheid, and those who left only to return when the hated
It won the 2003 Fleur du Cap Awards for best actor and best new South African play. In
the same year he was also awarded a special OBIE Award for his extraordinary
contribution to theatre in the USA.
Kani is executive trustee of the Market Theatre Foundation, founder and director of the
Market Theatre Laboratory and chairman of the National Arts Council of SA.