HOW I BECAME AN ELEPHANT (Documentary – 82 min.) – SYNOPSIS

How I Became an Elephant is one girl’s journey to inspire a movement.

When Juliette West set out on a quest to educate herself she got far more than she bargained for. How I Became an Elephant follows this wide-eyed fourteen year-old from suburban California on her quest to save the world’s largest land mammals; a quest that takes her halfway across the globe and face to face with the gentle giants she aims to save.

On her journey Juliette meets Asia’s famous “Elephant Lady,” Lek Chailert who has risked her life and freedom for more than three decades to protect elephants from illegal trade and abuse. Together these unwavering and determined women from opposite ends of the earth and cultural spectrum converge on common ground: saving elephants. And they will stop at nothing to expose the dark secrets within industries so steeped in greed and corruption… and hopefully reverse the damage.

But Juliette knows time is of the essence. The South East Asian elephant is facing extinction in the wild as animal entertainment and elephant trekking industries grow exponentially. With few laws to protect “domestic” elephants and so much corruption within the system the situation looks bleak. Little does this fourteen year-old know she is about to embark on a journey that will change her life forever.

Part investigative journalism and all adventure, this elephant documentary with its exotic and sometimes disturbing imagery is inspiring folks around the globe to get involved. How I Became An Elephant is far more than just a film. It’s one girl’s story… that led to a movement, which led to a continuing plan… to save a species.

How I Became an Elephant is directed by 16-time award winning filmmakers Tim Gorski and Synthian Sharp and produced by television actor/producer Jorja Fox and fourteen year-old Juliette West. Award winning cinematographer Jonathan David Kane is behind the lens and upcoming Hollywood composer Cody Westheimer weaves a masterful music score.

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.

THE ISSUES

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.