Friday, June 25, 2010

'One Lucky Elephant': Review and Interview from LA Film Festival

"One Lucky Elephant," a touching and thoughtful documentary screening in competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, was 10 years in the making.

The film, directed by Lisa Leeman, follows an African elephant named Flora, and David Balding, the man who adopted her as a pint-sized pachyderm to become the signature act in his St. Louis circus -- Circus Flora.

After years in the spotlight and treated like the daughter Balding never had, Flora becomes visibly restless as the star of the show. It becomes clear from her behavior that she is simply tired of performing.

So what can Balding do?

"She needs a different life," he says in the film, "where she can be an elephant, not a dog or a daughter."

Thus begins his journey to find the proper place for the 10,000 pound animal Balding raised as his own.

After being essentially coddled by Balding for 16 years, where does Flora belong? Should she stay with him? Live in a zoo with other elephants -- something she's never before experienced as an "only elephant"? Or should she be returned to the wild, in Africa, where elephants live naturally in herds?

The film explores with great tenderness the journey of a man who knows he must let go of his "little girl." Whereas parents of similarly aged real children, when sending them off to college for example, recognize the milestone of letting their kids grow up, Balding experiences the same feelings of loss coupled with extreme uncertainty.

And after Balding makes his final decision, the filmmakers don't shy away from examining the fallout -- as well as the questions that linger after such an important decision.

What "One Lucky Elephant" spotlights very well is the paradoxical treatment of wild animals by humans -- something producer Cristina Colissimo discussed with me in the above video. While we want to be able to watch and learn from animals in zoos and be entertained by them at circuses, what are we also taking away from them (physically and emotionally) in the process?

Note: While children are encouraged to watch "One Lucky Elephant," the film does contain news footage of elephants in distress, as well as footage of how elephants are "broken" or trained.

"One Lucky Elephant" will be screening tonight at 5 p.m. at Regal Cinemas and tomorrow, June 26, at 1:45 p.m., also at Regal Cinemas.

Tickets: $12 (door only)

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