How I Became an Elephant is the brainchild of fourteen year-old Juliette West. When Juliette began learning about the plight of elephants in circuses and zoos she decided it was time to do something about it. She knew she needed to discover a way to educate people on a large scale. She wanted to illustrate the connection between elephant abuse in America and elephant abuse in Asia. But how? Juliette knew the two issues are connected in a big way but how to deliver that to Americans was her challenge.
When Juliette met animal advocates and filmmakers Tim Gorski and Michael Tobias the seed was planted. They devised a plan to create a film for the youth of America with Juliette as the voice for the elephants.
How I Became an Elephant is a film designed to educate, enlighten, inspire, ignite, and empower. It is fashioned in a way to reach out to audiences of all ages, to invoke discussion, and solutions to the epic problems facing elephants today: habitat destruction, dwindling food sources, and capture for entertainment and tourism. With it Juliette hopes for people to gain a better understanding and appreciation for elephants, and there basic rights and needs as fellow earthlings. She hopes to expose the dark history and current practices in so-called elephant care. But ultimately Juliette intends to raise awareness, invoke change, and inspire youth to choose a cause that is dear to their heart and commit to doing something about it.
How I Became an Elephant – Documentary – HD – 97 minutes – Directed by: Tim Gorski and Synthian Sharp – Produced by: Juliette West and Jorja Fox – Filmed on location in California and Thailand. Copyright 2010: Rattle the Cage Productions – Florida 501(c)3
WHY THIS STORY NEEDS TO BE TOLD
At the top of the 20th century Asia boasted well over 100,000 elephants. Today there are less than 5000 wild elephants in Burma and less than 500 in Thailand. The entertainment industry’s increasing demand for elephants keeps the illegal border crossings busy, but is also depleting the populations exponentially.
As avid travelers to developing nations, we feel it is our duty to let fellow travelers be aware of the extent of their impact. As filmmakers, we feel it is our professional duty to tell a great story about a real hero through the best medium available to us, and one that will reach audiences worldwide. As conservationists, it is our obligation to educate and convert audiences from passive viewers to active stewards. As humanitarians, we feel compelled to showcase a true-life female hero who went against all odds and still came out victorious. Lek’s story is one of inspiration that invokes passion and hope.
Lek has raised considerable funding and awareness through her website. She and the elephants became the subject of numerous news specials around the world including Time Magazine (where she was named Asia’s Hero of the Year in 2005), and the BBC. The new govt. of Thailand finally recognized her merits, awarding her “Woman of the Year” in 2008 for her conservation work.
DEFORESTATION-TOURISM – The Asian elephant is in severe trouble in all range states. Problems facing the Asian elephant are deforestation, human encroachment, poaching and now tourism. With exponential growth of tourism in Thailand comes an increasing demand for wild-caught Burmese elephants. Dozens of wild-caught elephants are smuggled into Thailand every month to support the demand. Street performing elephants in Thailand fall victim to automobile accidents, landmines, malnourishment, and severe mistreatment.
LOGGING – An estimated 5000 elephants are currently being “worked” in legal and illegal logging in Burma (Myanmar). The work is grueling for elephants and their caregivers. Using elephants in the logging industry is, however, a double edged sword. Captured and trained elephants work excruciating hours hauling enormous logs through dense jungle. But using elephants rather than heavy machinery allows loggers to target single trees without disrupting much of the surrounding jungle and eliminating the need for roads which pave the way for other poaching. In essence, Burma/Myanmar uses captive elephants to protect the jungles for other wildlife, avoiding the massive deforestation its neighbor Thailand has experienced.
LAW – No laws protect “domesticated” elephants in Thailand or Burma. In 1921 wild elephants came under the protection of a ‘special law’, a decree by King Rama VI (Vajiravudh). Called The Wild Elephant Protection Act of 1921, the law made all wild elephants government property. “Domesticated” elephants, however, fall under The Draft Animal Protection Act. The sole intent of the 1939 Act is to define the rights and obligations of ownership. Five sections deal with subjects such as changing ownership, using elephants for security for loans, moving domicile, registration fees, etc. There are no provisions concerning the treatment of “domesticated” elephants.
OUTREACH AND ENGAGEMENT
With the overwhelming amount of entertainment available on television and the internet it is crucial to seize the opportunity to employ viewers once encouraged to act. The call to action is imperative and must be accompanied by accessible ways to become engaged. For this reason we will create a companion website, an internet hub with videos, podcasts, and forums for The Elephant Lady in essence, creating a place for viewers to connect with featured individuals and organizations, to expand their knowledge base, discuss issues, and to register for volunteer activities or charity donations. This companion site will provide answers to the “What can I do?” questions with a wide selection of current information. It will also serve as a valuable networking environment for like-minded intellectually curious individuals to share ideas.
In addition to a strong online hub, Juliette West has begun and will continue to tour public and private Middle and High schools as well as universities doing community outreach to youth at a local grassroots level. By approaching outreach on both an individual basis as well as a worldwide internet campaign the message of this film is sure to last long after its film festival tour.