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Jerry Cope

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Films Illuminate Human-Animal Relationships -- a Paradigm Shift Is Underway

Posted: 06/23/11 05:28 PM ET

In the past few years films focusing on animals have dramatically shifted their focus from nature oriented to an examination of the changing relationship between humans and animals. They represent a growing awareness that our treatment of animals and attitudes towards them are evolving into a more healthy respect for life in general. A fundamental paradigm shift in our consciousness seems to be taking place as the impacts of human activity threaten the planet with it's sixth major extinction event and climate change not seen for millennia. All life on Earth is now threatened by human activity either directly or as a consequence of anthropogenic climate change. The opportunity to ensure a secure future for the generations to come is exciting; the very real possibility of staying on a course of business-as-usual and creating a nightmare scenario of massive global extinction for animals, humans, and other life a threat which is all too real. Recent films point to a the chance for a brighter future where human and animal interaction is healthy and positive; a good sign that we may yet find balance between human activities and the natural world.

Several recent documentaries such as The Cove have dramatically exposed the dark side of human relations with the animal world. Now three films in release or rolling out offer compelling stories of hope and positive developments in the way in which humans treat other animals. Buck, the story of Buck Brannaman the true horse-whisperer, Project Nim about a chimpanzee who was raised as a human, and One Lucky Elephant which has it's LA premiere this weekend.

One Lucky Elephant was one lucky project. Over the span of 10 years the director Lisa Leeman and producers Cristina Colissimo, Jordana Glick-Franzheim, and Miriam Cutler became an integral part of the story to a degree rarely part of the filmmaking process. As the story continued to unfold they set up a non-profit for Flora the elephant at the center of the narrative, and adopted her. The film received critical acclaim on the festival circuit and standing ovations this month at screenings in New York City. The journey of Flora and the filmmakers is both heartbreaking and uplifting, an affirmation of love and it's power to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

I spoke with the director and producers regarding the film and their journey to complete the project.

JC: How did this story first come on your radar?

LL: It definitely took a village to make this. Our composer and Co-producer Miriam Cutler was and is the resident composer at Circus Flora so she watched Flora grow up. She always wondered what's it like for Flora this single elephant with a human family without other elephants around. When she heard Flora was going to be retired and David's intentions for her she thought what a great film. When she asked me I said -- stupidly -- no, no I don't do films about animals find someone else. They obviously circled back to me but then she found Cristina and Jordana not knowing that Cristina's father had been the co-founder of the Miami Metro Zoo. It was incredible synchronicity.
CC: Miriam had sent an email to pretty much everyone in town (LA) and luckily we were the only ones who responded. We convinced Lisa to come on the first shoot and when she got there she understood that this was much more than just a film about animals...
LL: It's about our relationship with animals; how we see them what we do to them...

JC: What has been the audience reaction to One Lucky Elephant?

LL: My favorite quote is that someone came out and said, "I will never look at an elephant in a circus or a zoo the same way again." So I feel like we have done our job.
One Lucky Elephant premieres in LA Friday evening June 24th at the Laemmle Music Hall and runs through June 30th.
 

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