Cleveland International Film Festival 2024: Director Darwin Shaw Talks ‘The Last Ranger’

Yesterday, Why So Blu covered the impactful short film The Last Ranger, featured at the Cleveland International Film Festival, and what the future holds for this small-package big-imprint style of production. Darwin Shaw, one of the creative minds behind the Antiviral Film Project, an effort designed to bring real, meaningful stories to the screen, took time out of his shooting schedule to sit down with Why So Blu and answer a few questions about what makes the project tick, its rebranding to When the World Stopped, and its flagship film.

How did you decide who to surround yourself with in working on this project?

During the pandemic, I came up with the idea of creating a project called the Antiviral Film Project. It’s now called When the World Stopped. It’s basically an idea of telling stories in all sorts of countries around the world and putting them all together in a project to show how the experiences we’re all having in life are different, but there’s a universal nature to it. It didn’t matter where you were and what country you were in. They were all very universal and powerful, moving stories that were sort of uplifting, not about the pandemic, but about pressures created on communities that were often struggling or even just families.

That was the background, so I contacted my very close friend Will Hawkes and pitched him the idea, and he loved it. So we went together in creating this project and we collected hundreds of stories from around the world and found writers in each country. We worked with them to help develop the stories. The first story we did was called Carl and the Janitor, which is a beautiful story set in Denmark about a child on the spectrum. Then why we then chose The Last Ranger, that was a story which was kind of different how it ended up on the screen, it was a poaching story, which David (Lee) had written.

He had written it as a feature film to obviously promote rhino protection. He had a friend he had grown up with who ran a game reserve in the eastern cape of South Africa called the Amakhala Game Reserve. He had said we could shoot on the land, and they’d help us get the shots of the rhinos. We worked with David and eventually developed the story and it just happened there was a space where there were no tourists for two weeks at the end of the pandemic. We just made the decision we were going to shoot this film in those two weeks, but it only gave us about six weeks to raise the finance for that.

What is the vision of the Antiviral Film Project, and where does The Last Ranger fit in that?

Our plan is to make 24 stories, each consisting of eight episodes and three stories. We felt that this story would be the perfect conclusion to the whole series. It’s such a powerful story that it’d be a great way to get people excited about helping to bring together the finance to make the rest of them stream it and support it.

That was kind of why this film came to our list of the next ones to make. We’ve always been trying to find diverse members of the team, particularly people from South Africa. It also created a platform for people of a community to be involved in the making of this film.

What was the particular situation that inspired you?

Well, I think because we developed the story around the human aspect, it’s in tandem with the pressure on the rangers and what happens to the community that causes people to be poachers or get involved in the illegal trade of rhino horns. It was very relevant to the increased pressure on rangers during the pandemic because A) people had no money, and B) the tourists hadn’t been able to come to the game reserve during the pandemic. All their sources of income had been cut. They couldn’t afford to pay for the rangers to protect the animals, so the rangers had to go and look after their families. Suddenly we had this perfect storm where you had this unprotected group of rhinos and then lots of very poor people who were struggling just to help their families survive.

We thought that was a very interesting way of looking at the situation rather than painting people as just good and bad. Also, having a female ranger was very interesting because a lot of women in South Africa have to go to work in other cities looking after other people’s children. Being a ranger actually allows women to hold jobs in their own communities and be close to their families. That kind of sets the stage as to why this story is very interesting.

As far as the funding, we had those six weeks where we held fundraisers and got donations to make it happen. Then we had to choose a director, and we met David’s sister, Cindy, who was available. She was able to work with the Star Film Co., which is a South African production company, to help get everyone together in a short period of time, and it just seemed like it was really perfect, serendipity really, that we were able to get everything together in such a short period of time.

Where can viewers watch The Last Ranger?

We won the Celebration of Life award in Cleveland, which is called the Maggie and Clover award, and we were the runner-up for the audience choice award by one vote. We applied to many festivals around America, and by winning the Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles in February, we are now Oscar-eligible.

This means that toward the end of the year, we will be submitting our film for the Oscars, which involves a whole campaign to get as many people from the Oscar voting committee to watch and support the film as possible. Hopefully, if we get a nomination, that will give us the exposure to take the film to the next level.

At the moment, we’re not putting that out until it’s all done because we hope to incorporate it into this series, and people will be able to see it as part of a whole anthology of equally powerful and beautiful stories.

What can viewers do to support the cause of preserving rhinos and other wildlife that are heavily targeted by poachers?

If people want to support the film, there is a donations button on our website, and they can donate to our 501c3 charity.  This will allow us to take the film further, and eventually, we’ll be donating the film to help various writer charities so they can send it to the mailing list of all their supporters.   It’s a sort of gift and will encourage them to support the Amakhala Game Preserve and other rhino protection preserves around Africa.  All our films are linked to a charity because they all have a specific social, cultural, or family message.  So, the aim is how we can provide entertainment and also make a direct difference through what we do.

Thank you, Darwin!  We wish you, When the World Stopped, and The Last Ranger continued success on your journeys!  

For more information on the origins of the Antiviral Film Project, please visit Variety Magazine’s article by clicking on Variety – Antiviral Film Project

Also, check out the group at…
Instagram: antiviralfilmproject
Instagram: thelastrangerfilm

For more information on helping rhinos, please visit the African Rhino Conservation Collaboration, and be sure to check out the Cleveland International Film Festival.

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