BY JENNY WERTH
From Hollywood Weekly
LOS ANGELES—We’ve all heard the proverbial term ‘the elephant in the room,’ and we all know that means there’s a huge ‘animal’ of an issue that everyone in the room is trying to avoid discussing. But thanks to the efforts of some highly concerned A-list celebrities and animal activists, there is finally an elephant in the room that’s being exposed. You see there are hundreds of elephants who suffer needlessly as they’re held in captivity in zoos and circuses around the world. Perhaps not everyone is aware of the crisis, but Kat Kramer is ensuring that changes through her powerful documentary “Elephants and Man: A Litany of Tragedy.”
Some of Hollywood’s most iconic stars came out to Sunset Gower Studios last week for the world premiere of the documentary that is shedding some very ugly light on an often ignored topic. Host committee members for the film, including Cher, Billy Bob Thornton, Lily Tomlin and Tippi Hedren all spoke out about their involvement in a campaign to persuade zoos to close their elephant exhibits and move the animals to much larger sanctuaries.
The campaign’s leader, Melya Kaplan, who is also the documentary’s executive producer and founder of the non-profit Voices for the Animals Foundation, joined forces with director, Jacek Kropinski, to chronicle the history of elephants in captivity. For Kat Kramer’s third installment of her “Films That Change the World” series she carefully chose the documentary “Elephants and Man: A Litany of Tragedy.” Kramer wanted to bring attention to the controversy surrounding the new $42 million elephant exhibit that just opened at the LA Zoo in December 2010. While the exhibit is larger, it provides only three acres for the elephants to roam. But being confined to the ‘freedom’ of three or even ten acres doesn’t even come close to solving the problem of elephant confinement in zoos. Especially when you consider an elephant’s natural instinct can be to walk up to one hundred miles per day.
“I wanted to create a think tank and get activists and the media together to have a forum,” Kramer explained about the debut of her documentary. “(Films) can inspire us to think and explore social issues. The Cove made such an impact and I hoped to create something else that would create the same impact,” Kramer said. After viewing the documentary, the picture becomes very clear that keeping these endearing creatures in the confines of captivity is simply another form of torture. To watch an elephant be whipped by its trainer so they can learn how to do ridiculous circus tricks is heart breaking. It’s beyond words. It’s horrific.
A pioneer in animal rights, Tippi Hedren said, “Parents should know not to take their children to see elephants in zoos and circuses. There’s nothing educational about seeing an elephant standing up on his legs.”
Do we really need to watch elephants in circus acts standing on their hind legs? Is this really a form of entertainment, or are we merely mocking these creatures’ nature by training them to do outlandish tricks.
Cher is another host committee member who is outraged at the treatment of elephants. “(Imagine if) you were taken away from your family and kept in solitary confinement… it’s miserable. And the elephants in zoos and circuses are kept alone because if they were all together, (the trainers) wouldn’t be able to control them.” She hopes the public learns the truth about these endearing creatures. “An elephant is like a very large child, it has the mentality of an eight-year-old. They want to live with their moms and sibling and aunts. Children wouldn’t want to see them anymore if they knew that they were going to be alone forever without their family and be just miserable.”
Cher explained that elephants love their relatives the same way humans do; they mourn and miss their loved ones the same way humans do as well. “It does so much damage just to put them in this confinement when there’s really no reason for it. Something else could be done,” Cher said.
Animals are not any different from humans. We all have feelings. The question is whether we choose to acknowledge that fact. At least we know that at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood, a revolution of change is well underway by the filmmakers.
“Our Sunset Gower and Sunset Bronson studios take an active role in continuously supporting filmmakers by hosting screenings, events, and networking opportunities” said Terri Melkonian, the studio’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing and also a member of the Advisory Board for Films That Changed The World. “The eminent producer and director Stanley Kramer spent most of his film career at our Sunset Gower Studios lot during its run as Columbia Pictures. Many of his socially conscious films, including the award winning “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” were filmed on our sound stages. His daughter Kat Kramer is continuing his tradition of bringing attention to our social conscience through her screening series Films That Changed The World. Last year at this time, we helped her bring attention to a little known film called The Cove – which later earned an Oscar and brought worldwide attention to the tragic slaying of dolphins.” Melkonian added “and through our notable red carpet turnout for Elephant and Man: A Litany of Tragedy, we hoped to provide a platform for the filmmakers Jacek and Melya and bring attention to their plight regarding elephants and animals in captivity. By having the iconic Cher, Lily Tomlin, Billy Bob Thornton, Tippi Hedren, Ed Begley Jr., and other prominent celebrities come out to Sunset Gower and support this documentary, significant media attention was brought to this film and its message.”
For more information or to help the campaign, please visit www.vtfafoundation.org or call 310.392.5153. As the voice for animals, they are devoted to creating respect and empathy for animals through education, rescue, advocacy, and legislation. There are many ways to volunteer for the foundation. But the change starts with you, please tell your animal-loving friends to stop the insanity and allow these animals their inherent right to enjoy their lives in freedom, instead of confined in jails for our “viewing enjoyment.”