Oct. 17, 2013
While some fourteen-year-old girls are concerned with popularity and Justin Bieber posters, some are fighting to save the existence of elephants and inspire others to do the same. Okay, maybe not some, but at least one is, and her name is Juliette West.
“How I Became an Elephant” follows Juliette’s heartwarming and at times chilling journey, as she leaves her home in Los Angeles to travel to South East Asia and witness firsthand the declining elephant population and the mistreatment of the captive animals. With the continued growth of elephant use in entertainment and trekking industries, South East Asian elephants are facing extinction and experiencing brutal conditions as they are taken from the wild and transported all over the world.
In “How I Became an Elephant,” Juliette redefines the typical coming of age story with her genuine passion and concern for the world’s largest land mammal. As a student, she has raised great awareness and funds for her cause, and in this up-close-and-personal documentary, shot on location in Thailand and Burma, viewers experience a firsthand and admittedly uncomfortable look at the corruption and lawlessness that surrounds the treatment of captive elephants. It doesn’t take long before realizing that these seemingly resilient animals feel great pain and anguish in their when held against their will and forced to perform and live in large cities.
Determined to make a difference and inspire a movement, Juliette teams up with her hero, Lek Chailret, a seasoned animal advocate, otherwise known as the Elephant Lady. Together the two spread their message of compassion and aim to inspire audiences around the world and locally in South East Asia.
What may sound like a dreamy ambition coming from a young student in America becomes a very real and highly informative tale of struggle and hope. It’s nearly impossible not to believe in Juliette’s message, and with the help of director Tim Gorski and his detailed documentation of the many causes of the elephant population’s steady decline, that same message has become as giant as the beautiful creatures it hopes to save.
Join the movement and tag along for Juliette’s journey in “How I Became an Elephant” here on Cinecliq.
How I Became an Elephant.
REVIEW. First published January 9, 2014 (Booklist Online).
California teenager Juliette West is on a mission to save the Asian elephant from extinction. With support from her parents, she travels to Thailand to meet Lek Chailert, fondly known as the “Elephant Lady” for her dedicated efforts to protect elephants from illegal trade and abuse. Chailert introduces West to some of her resident elephants and details ways elephants are abused, including separating mothers and babies, restraining the animals with chains and ropes, and making elephants perform for tourists. Elephants are often drugged or purposefully given little water to keep them tame and docile when giving rides to people or performing tricks. West vows to bring the plight of the Asian elephants to the world. Some footage of beating and restraining are heartbreaking, and lack of onscreen captions makes selected verbal exchanges difficult to follow, yet this remains a powerful film that highlights the passion of a young teen on a quest to save an endangered species.
This title has been recommended for young adult readers:
YA/General Interest: The young narrator’s passion will draw teens into the elephants’ desperate situations. —Candace Smith
Correction by Tim Gorski added 01/18/2014
The film is closed captioned and available in 6 languages with subtitles. DVDs and VOD (through Distrify Only) include, English CC, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, and Thai.