By Rollo Ross
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Harry Turner, a former British soldier who deployed to Afghanistan at the age of 18, was struggling with PTSD and depression when he decided to try something completely new in the Peruvian Amazon (NASDAQ:).
Far from home and civilization, Turner found the joy of taking care of an ocelot kitten who would later be re-introduced to the wild through conservation group Hoja Nueva started by his girlfriend Samantha Zwicker.
Their triumphs and travails are at the heart of “Wildcat”, a documentary filmed deep in the rainforest that premieres on Amazon’s Prime Video on Friday.
The film begins on a tender note with Turner falling for the playful ocelot Khan, but then turns dark when Khan is killed in an accident, leaving Turner in despair and Zwicker worried for him.
Then they get a call from a friend that an ocelot kitten was found by loggers and little Keanu helps Turner out of his grief.
Turner said people have expressed their gratitude for his raw depiction of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“They’re very grateful and thankful that I have been able to be vulnerable on screen and show this side of depression that not a lot of films actually manage to make look real,” Turner told Reuters. “I think the only way we managed to do that was just to be completely honest.”
The documentary came about after Zwicker shot videos documenting Khan’s upbringing, hoping it would help other conservationists return cats to the wild.
Directors Trevor Frost and Melissa Lesh came on board to document the lives of Turner, Zwicker and their animals after receiving Keanu.
“I never knew it was going to be so personal,” Zwicker said. “I thought it was going to be a lot more about the cats and nature and kind of weave in some of these greater issues of wildlife trafficking and illegal logging.”
Keanu needed 18 months to be reared alone by Turner before being released into the jungle, posing a unique situation for the filmmakers.
“It was just Harry that saw Keanu because they wanted to make sure that no other humans were around him so he was as afraid of humans as possible,” Frost said, adding that “it was something that we really embraced and I think it really lent itself to a stronger film.”
With proceeds from the reported $20 million Amazon Studios paid for the documentary, Zwicker is building up her conservation program Hoja Nueva, while Turner has set up his own charity, Emerald Arch.
He is buying Amazonian land in Ecuador, conducting scientific research and helping animals in need. And he will create a retreat geared toward military veterans with PTSD and depression.
“It only took me about two weeks to realize that my life had purpose,” Turner said.
“I know that it can be a fresh start for other people who are struggling and I hope that can be the case, kind of combining mental health and conservation together because at the end of the day, we need this world to be healthy.”