The 2016 shooting of Harambe captivated the world. Harambe — a critically endangered western lowland silverback gorilla — was shot and killed after a child fell into his enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. The story made international news, and Harambe’s photo quickly became an internet sensation that sparked an important discussion on captivity.
Severna Park High School 1991 graduates Erik Crown and Tod Schneider collaborated on the new documentary, “Harambe,” released in September 2023. Crown wrote and directed the film. Schneider is one of the executive producers.
Packed with unreleased photos and video of Harambe, the documentary features narration by Peter Egan, along with exclusive interviews with wildlife expert Ian Redmond; Dan Van Coppenolle, who named Harambe; and Jeff McCurry, Harambe’s personal photographer whose photo of Harambe went viral and became an iconic meme; among others.
The documentary explores animal captivity from a modern perspective through the lens of Harambe’s tragic life and death. The Swahili word meaning of “Harambe” is “the community coming together for the common good.” Those behind the film are doing that in his memory.
Crown explained the movie should not be thought of in the anti-zoo vs. pro-zoo model, but as a pro-animal movie.
“It is important to challenge societal preconceived notions of captivity and conservation, as we move toward a better model for all animals, including endangered keystone species like Harambe,” Crown said.
Initially, Crown and Schneider reconnected after more than 30 years under interesting circumstances.
Crown returned to Naples, Florida, from Medellin, Colombia, after working on a project about Pablo Escobar's hippos for a screening hosted by the Calusa Waterkeepers. He saw Schneider was in that area and involved in coral restoration work in the Florida Keys. So, Crown reached out to him and ended up staying with Schneider during his visit.
The old friends instantly re-clicked and picked up as though not a day had gone by.
“I am lucky to have reconnected with such a good friend, then to have his vision align with the work we are doing. His input and partnership have been invaluable,” Crown said.
Schneider — who grew up in Chartwell — learned about Crown’s fascinating journey, from working on the television show “Scrubs” to being the first TMZ paparazzo at LAX airport.
“His struggle with environmental cancer and shift to purpose-driven documentary filmmaking deeply resonated with me, inspiring me to venture into the film industry as an executive producer,” Schneider said.
In November 2022, Crown started a new round of radiation for cancer wrapped around his tailbone. He was in radiation for the maximum amount possible. Luckily, a follow-up MRI nine months later showed the cancer was about half the size.
“They told me it would never fully go away, but to have the pain relief and mental relief that it is smaller has been like getting a second, second, second chance,” Crown said.
Together, Crown and Schneider are dedicated to producing films that not only create conversation but also make a significant societal impact.
“Our goal is to craft content that introduces new perspectives to viewers, ignites meaningful discussions and encourages simple everyday actions to tackle global challenges,” Schneider said.
“Harambe” asks viewers: Are we serving these animals in a way where the outcomes are better than they would be if the animals were in their natural habitat? You decide.
The documentary is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. and U.K. It’s also on www.filmsforaction.org. A portion of the movie’s proceeds will be donated to non-governmental organizations that help gorillas get out of captivity. To learn more or keep up with where to watch, visit www.harambemovie.com.
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