Review: Cheetahs of Leadwood

A cheetah lying down.
A cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) that’s decidedly not at Leadwood. Cheetah – Tsavo East 2016 by Conor O’Sullivan. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Intro

Most readers know that I’ve followed Wild SafariLIVE for many years. At first, I watched the series for fun, but I took a harder look at SafariLIVE when I decided to study it for my master’s thesis.

Brent Leo-Smith was one of SafariLIVE’s expert presenters for three years, and camera operator and engineer Wium Dornbrack was one of the technical wizards who made the program possible.

Brent and Wium have now struck off on their own to form PaintedDog TV. This was a bold move, since filmmaking – especially wildlife filmmaking – is a difficult way to make a living. Fortunately, the caliber of the videos Brent and Wium have been producing is astonishing.

The latest “Safari with Brent” by PaintedDog TV.

On March 18, 2019, PaintedDog TV uploaded their second “Safari with Brent” video on YouTube, titled “Cheetahs of Leadwood.” When I watched this film, I knew I had to write a review on it.

“Cheetahs of Leadwood” (CoL) combines gorgeous visuals, creative shots, superb editing, excellent music choices, and great information. In short, it’s perfect.

Visuals

It was CoL’s visuals that first grabbed my attention. For starters, many of the film’s shots are spectacularly beautiful.

Take, for instance, this shot of a cheetah’s face at seven minutes and 13 seconds. As the cat shakes its head in slow motion, one can almost feel its beauty – not just see it.

See caption.
A screen shot of a cheetah shaking its head in “Safari with Brent: Cheetahs of Leadwood.”

Even a sequence of a cheetah gorging on a carcass is exquisite.

Starting at 8:40, these shots are gruesome – since the cheetah’s face becomes covered in blood while it dines; but, owing to the clarity and perfect color balance of the shots, we see that there is beauty in predation. The death of one animal for the benefit of another isn’t necessarily “good,” but it’s one of the processes that creates Earth’s incredible biological diversity.

Creativity

The shots in CoL are creative as well as beautiful; non-traditional (read: “funky”) angles like those at 2:45 and 8:06 served to metaphorically shake me and make me say, “Cool.” In fact, I’ve been hoping for more camera angles like these in wildlife TV for a long time.

A close shot of the tip of a cheetah's tail.
One of the camera angles I liked in “Cheetahs of Leadwood.”

When you watch the National Geographic series Life Below Zero or Animal Planet’s The Last Alaskans, you’ll see how their crews use funky angles to make seemingly mundane activities come across as the most exciting occurrences ever. They might attach a camera to an axe as the protagonist chops wood, for example, or shoot from an extremely low angle – almost placing the camera on the ground – as stalks of grass partially obstruct the view.

I love these types of shots – as long as they’re used sparingly – and I’m happy to see CoL making nods in that direction. Furthermore, it’s not just the individual shots that I like in CoL, but how they’re woven together.

Editing

There were a few scene transitions in CoL that took my breath away, most notably the one at 2:49. As the screen faded to black and then I was suddenly greeted by the blazing headlights of a Land Rover, I had one of my “cool” moments.

The headlights of a Land Rover in the dark.
A neat scene transition in “Cheetahs of Leadwood.”

CoL also sprinkles in just enough drone shots to give viewers a sense of the scale and terrain of the landscape, and splices sufficient clips of cheetahs into the interview with Grant Beverly to hold my famously short attention span.

Another feature of CoL worth mentioning is the music.

Sound

The audio quality in CoL is superb overall, but the music stands out the most: it perfectly matches every scene.

A calm, deep tone in the introduction – while a cheetah rolls on the ground – encourages awe and appreciation for the cat. The music then switches to a higher tone at 0:50 as the camera introduces the scenery of Leadwood Big Game Estate, which made me feel as if I was witnessing something truly special.

Lastly, an elegant and emotional track at 7:10 reinforces the beauty of the cheetah that the camera is focused on, adding to CoL’s conservation value.

Conservation Utility

From a conservation standpoint, CoL has immense potential. The visuals and sound perfectly accentuate the cheetah’s natural beauty, and CoL pairs visual spectacle with quality education.

A mother cheetah with her cub.
Cheetah by Gerry Zambonini. CC BY-SA 2.0

The film’s chief guest is Grant Beverly of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. During his interview, Beverly eloquently explains:

  • How the “cheetah metapopulation in South Africa” is managed,
  • Why it’s important to manage several small populations as a single, connected “metapopulation,” and
  • How well that management plan is working.

In addition, Brent makes a graceful plug for the Endangered Wildlife Trust at the end of Beverly’s interview. This is a great way to use media to support a conservation organization, most of which are under-funded.

Conclusion

“Safari with Brent: Cheetahs of Leadwood” is the perfect wildlife film. It combines amazing shots, fantastic editing, excellent music, and fascinating information about cheetahs – while also supporting a worthy group.

CoL might be a short film, but it’s a powerful one. I strongly recommend you watch it, either below or on YouTube.

Final Rating: 10/10

“Safari with Brent Episode 2: Cheetahs of Leadwood”

14 Thoughts

  1. I love nature documentaries that really capture the sounds of nature and make your feel immersed in that environment. I also love cheetahs so this one sounds like my kind of documentary.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, Josh – thank you for introducing me to SafariLive, its presenters and projects – I used to watch a lot of wildlife programs in the past, but maybe it’s time for me to get back into it! (I enjoye the South African accents too – takes me back…) ;-)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Honestly I’m in love with baby cheetahs they are just so cute and fuzzy when they are young,
    Btw there was this docu series called big cat dairy that aired on BBC ONE like way back, I don’t think they have it on their site anymore ( i tried to look for it) but I think there are some videos on Youtube you can look up to see what it’s all about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, baby cheetahs are adorable! Cheetahs in general were some of my favorite animals when I was a kid, and they’ll always hold a special place in my heart.

      I’ve heard of Big Cat Diaries! I don’t remember watching it, but I’m sure I’ll be able to find it if I look around. Thanks for the recommendation :)

      Liked by 1 person

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