Bigger Picture: Honoring Cecil the Lion & Born Free

When we heard the news of the killing of Cecil the Lion, we knew that we must honor him and the many lions lost each year at the 2016 Green Film Fest as part of our Keep It Wild theme.

The clear choice for this event was to bring the classic film Born Free to San Francisco for a special 50th Anniversary screening.  


The star of the 1966 classic wildlife film Born FreeVirginia McKenna, was a special guest at the event, sharing her continuing passion for lions and all wildlife.

We presented Ms. McKenna with the Green Film Fest Inspiring Lives Award for her remarkable efforts on behalf of wild animal welfare and species conservation. 

In Born Free Ms McKenna and her late husband Bill Travers, played real-life husband and wife team George and Joy Adamson and told the story of their efforts to return an orphan lion cub, Elsa, to the wild. The film was the first mainstream Hollywood film to spotlight a conservation issue.

In 1984, together with their eldest son Will, Virginia and Bill founded their wildlife charity. Today, the Born Free Foundation and its sister organisation Born Free USA, strive to prevent the suffering of wild animals exploited in captivity and protect threatened species and their natural habitats. In respect of Born Free have declared 2016 the Year of the Lion’.

Rachel Caplan, founder of the San Francisco Green Film Festival, said:

Born Free struck a chord with so many – not just the audience who saw it at the time, but generation after generation since then too. We wanted to mark its 50th anniversary as well as highlight the plight of lions who are still in danger today, like the trophy shooting of Cecil in Zimbabwe last year.


Virginia McKenna said:

“I am extremely honored to have been invited to attend the San Francisco Green Film Festival, and thrilled that the film Born Free has been chosen to close this wonderful event.

“It is a unique story about two extraordinary people and an equally unforgettable lioness, called Elsa. But it is almost impossible to believe that half a century has passed since the film was released!  It was a film that changed our lives forever and introduced us to the fascinating and increasingly vulnerable world of wildlife."

Upon the film’s release, the story of Elsa the Lioness captured hearts around the globe and is regarded by many as the start of a new approach to wild animals which recognized each one as an individual in need of protection.

With the re-classification of many wild lion populations as endangered in December 2015 and inclusion of lions on the schedules of the US Endangered Species Act, the film’s heart-warming story is even more relevant today.

Its impact continues to reach far and wide - President Barack Obama said: “I think I may have teared up at the end (of Born Free) when they release Elsa. I couldn’t have been more than four or five.”


Fifty years on, this classic film still inspires audiences. People that were at the 50th Anniversary screening shared their reactions with our Green Speak Out! team and pledged to continue to protect our wildlife.

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures (Born Free); Pamela Gentile; Tommy Lau.