Review by Dan Skip Allen
National Geographic has made its share of nature documentaries in its long and storied history. Their films like The Rescue, Free Solo, Fire of Love, and The Territory have all been fantastic films. That being said, the one I have the most vested interest in is their latest film, Path of the Panther, from writer/director Eric Bendick.
This movie focuses mainly on nature photographer Carlton Ward Jr. Throughout this documentary, he is shown putting his cameras in swampy land, ranches, and other spots trying to capture footage of the rare and endangered Florida Panther. He interacts with various people including Betty Osceola — a member of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida — veterinarian Dr. Laura Cusack, rancher Elton Langford, animal conservationist Brian Kelly, and animal biologist Dr. Jen Korn, who all want to help save this endangered species.
As a current citizen of Florida myself, I am a concerned citizen when it comes to trying to save some land in this beautiful state for the wildlife that lives here. We as humans need to try and co-exist with all this wildlife. It's one of the reasons why this state is so great. Its wilderness, forests, beaches, rivers, lakes, and yes, swamps like the Everglades, are important to the wildlife of this state. I want these animals to thrive!
There are a few techniques that the writer/director, Bendick, uses to get his point across in this film, including narration from the subjects he's filming, talking heads, stock footage of the state and area the film takes place, and — most impressively — time-lapse photography. There are also many scenes where he focuses his camera on what Ward Jr. captures with his cameras. He uses this footage to show the viewers the "path of the panther" and various animals like bears, alligators, pumas, snakes, and birds. These techniques show a visual style that I loved.
The documentary also takes the viewer to various locations to show the expanse of where these animals live and fend for themselves, such as Braddock Ranch, Tribe of Florida, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve, White Oak Conservation Center, Zoo Tampa, Buck Island Ranch, Lime Creek Ranch, and the Caloosahatchee River. These locations were all important in showing the journey of the animals and people within the film.
Where this movie truly hits home for me, and I'm sure for many others, is when progress and nature take over. One of my personal pet peeves is how developers keep building homes and subdivisions all over the state. With all these new buildings to get to, roads aren't cheap, and so toll roads are the way to pay for all this construction. The problem is that people want these roads to go through wilderness and wetlands designated areas of protected land for wildlife. That is a no-go for me and the people involved in this film.
All through the documentary, there is a beautiful score from Kevin Matley playing over everything. It co-exists perfectly with everything else going on in the movie. I absolutely loved the score, and it fit perfectly with the whole concept of what the filmmakers were trying to do. This is why music is so important to this industry as a whole.
Path of the Panther is a remarkable film that shows how important our wildlife is to this state and the world in general. The Florida Panther is the main focus of these men and women who made and were featured in this movie, so that's what is important in the context of everything. Bendick and Ward Jr., along with everybody else, have made a stunning documentary that needs to be seen by as many people as possible. The narrative is one of the most important things to me as a Floridian, and should be important to others in the state, around the country, and worldwide. The main thing I took away from this film was how impressive these animals truly are, and why this fight to save them is so necessary.
Path of the Panther hits theaters on February 24.
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