Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lisa Leeman's ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT explores bond between human & animal

Hot on the heels of Michael Webber's documentary about exotic pets, The Elephant in the Living Room, which opened last April, comes another film devoted to a fellow and his (very large) pet. ONE LUCKY ELEPHANT is the story of Ivor David Balding, longtime circus owner/performer, and the orphaned baby elephant named Flora that he adopted a couple of decades back, used in his own circus and grew exceedingly close to over the ensuing years. As did Flora to Mr. Balding.

As the film opens, our circus man and elephant lover has come to the realization that he will probably depart the world prior to Flora, who in any case is tiring of this "performing" thing (evidently baby elephants, unlike many other child stars, grow out of their enjoyment of performing). He has pretty much settled on placing the animal in a preserve in Africa, but the political situation there, as well as the logistics of Flora's traveling, puts the kibosh on that.

The film -- a labor of love by all concerned -- was made over a ten-year period by its director Lisa Leeman (at right) and its producer/writer/
cinematographer Cristina Colissimo and their crew, and so we see the various roadblocks on the way to a satisfying conclusion. Some of these are self-made: Mr. Balding proves awfully sure of himself; his near-total insistence on what's best for Flora (because, of course, he and only he knows why she does what she does) proves frustrating. Ah, parents!  Balding and his wife may be childless (of the human variety), but he is every bit the parent who cannot let go.

Truthfully, it is very hard to see this man suffer the pangs of loneliness and separation, even as we learn some disturbing thing about Miss Flora: the young elephant trainer she injured badly, and a woman who befriends her whom she nearly kills. Little wonder there are so many people around our country who believe that "exotic" animals should not be pets. Along the way we learn some very interesting things, such as why African and Asian elephants are generally kept separated: Play behavior to an African elephant reads as aggression to the Asian variety. Yet elephants, like most species, are social animals, happiest when they are in each other's company, and Flora has not been in such company for 16 years.

Confession (critics, I feel, ought to own up to stuff): On the morning of the press screening, thanks to subway "signal problems," TrustMovies was stuck between stations on the E train for thirty minutes and so arrived just about that late for the screening. Even so, he was immediately immersed in Flora's story and was greatly moved by the end of the 84-minute film. He has since watched that first half-hour, and in fact the rest of the film again. It's good one. In the annals of the bonding between human and animal (which, of course we're getting only from the human side), One Lucky Elephant is a memorable addition.

The film opens this Wednesday, June 8, for a two-week run at Film Forum in New York City and then in Los Angeles on Friday, June 24, at the Laemmle Music Hall. Click here for further screenings around the country, then move the drop-down bar in the middle of the screen to see upcoming playdates and theaters.

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