Cleveland International Film Festival 2024: The Last Ranger (Short Film Review)

The Cleveland International Film Festival is an annual event where many fans make the pilgrimage to Playhouse Square, the second-largest theater district in the U.S. outside of Broadway. A seemingly endless number of films dot the viewing landscape each year, giving audiences a plethora of choices on what to see next. With blocks of short films being one of the highlights, I made it a point to randomly select a grouping of potential cinematic prowess, but what that collection finished with was a production unlike any other in its class.

While the roster of short films were entertaining, it was the final one that was a giant amongst its celluloid brethren. The Last Ranger is a 28-minute drama based on a true story of how one African park ranger made it her goal to protect the rhinoceros, with one in particular, from the deadly hands of poachers. Cindy Lee (Desert Rose, The Girl from St. Agnes) is the captain behind the camera as she weaves the brief yet utterly impactful tale through her directorial efforts. Her brother, David S. Lee, who appeared in Marvel’s smash hit Black Panther, penned the script for The Last Ranger and also earns an acting credit for his work in front of the camera. Together, the sibling duo helped forge what has become a powerful film that carries with it a dire and urgent message.

Taking place on the South African plains, a young girl by the name of Litha strolls through the countryside carrying a fascination with wildlife with her wherever she goes. When paired with her friend and local ranger, Khuselwa, the two enjoy each other’s company while the senior ranger educates her young friend on the local four-legged inhabitants. Where the film goes from here is best left for viewing as it certainly cascades a force of emotions. From the cinematography to the acting to the story, there is a lot that The Last Ranger delivers in its small, half-hour package.

Regarding the acting, attention must be brought to the actress playing young Litha. Performed by Liyabona Mroqoza, with virtually no previous acting experience, the child actor demonstrates a thespian prowess well beyond her years. If the more pressing matter of preserving one of nature’s gems weren’t at hand here, it would be easy to say Mroqoza steals the show.

As for the film in its entirety, it never deviates from such aforementioned excellence. Both an innocence and rapid maturity occur within its story, laced with regret, loss, and triumph. I had the privilege of meeting one of the film’s producers, Darwin Shaw, who is no stranger to the front of the camera, appearing in series such as Marvel’s Moon Knight and Apple TV’s Sugar. Look for a forthcoming interview with Darwin Shaw tomorrow here on Why So Blu? Before closing, though, it’s an understatement to say The Last Ranger has garnered some attention.  Here is a look at the award résumé the film has to its credit thus far:

  • 48th Cleveland International Film Festival (two awards)
  • American Conservation Festival (two awards)
  • Toronto International Woman’s Film Festival
  • Atlantic Film Festival (two awards)
  • LA Independent Women Film Awards (two awards)
  • International Images Film Festival

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