DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT - LISA LEEMAN
We started out to make a film about David Balding trying to do right by Flora, the elephant he’d adopted sixteen years ago and made the star of his circus. He dreamed of returning her to Africa, and that's the story we thought we were following. It seemed like a simple, feel-good story. But it wasn't that simple….. As David learned more about the situation of elephants in Africa, where poachings take place even in protected reserves, he felt he'd better reconsider all the options. The problem is, there aren't many good options for a mature elephant who's lived with humans most of her life, and couldn't fend for herself in the wild.
As the story unfolded over a period of 10 years, I learned how elephants live in the wild, and how rarely elephants' needs are met in captivity. I realized that David and Flora's story is not only the redemptive story of a man trying to right a wrong he didn't even know he was committing years ago (raising an elephant alone, training her to perform in the circus) - it’s also a cautionary tale.
Watching David try to find the best home for Flora was to see, finally, that she’s caught between two worlds, and belongs fully to neither. She was raised among humans, but they cannot fulfill her deepest needs; she needs to be with other elephants, but she hasn’t learned how to integrate with her own kind. She’s a fish out of water, whether with humans or with other elephants.
David has said many times that the world is becoming a smaller and smaller place, and that humans and animals have to learn to live with each other. Most people assume that means that animals must adapt to us - they must live in smaller habitats; not devour our crops or raid our food storehouses; and that they should be docile and obedient when interacting with humans. But perhaps the answer is something else entirely - perhaps we should stop encroaching into their habitats and destroying their food sources; and perhaps we shouldn’t assume that we have the right to dominate them into submission. Perhaps they have just as much right to be respected and left alone in their places on this earth as we do....
I always knew that the strength of this story was in David and Flora’s relationship. They are intertwined, for better or worse. I wanted the film to be an intimate, character-driven story, with David and Flora as equal protagonists. This isn’t an overtly ‘social issue film’ - it doesn’t have ‘experts’ decrying the mistreatment of elephants in circuses and zoos. But at its heart, this film asks -- demands -- that we reconsider our relationship to all animals. I've become interested in more than simply showing that circuses and zoos are not good environments for elephants – I want to open hearts and minds to the possibility that we should reconsider how we regard, and treat, animals, and ultimately, the earth herself. That perhaps our impulse to dominate our surroundings, whether it’s other species or our environment, is misguided.
The film doesn’t provide answers, but it does raise a lot of questions. I leave it to audiences to grapple with the questions…