The protection of wild and captive elephants isn’t something that comes on my radar very often, but in the documentary One Lucky Elephant that opens tomorrow, it is an issue that is depicted with all of it’s complexities and a heartfelt look at true friendship.
David Balding adopted Flora, an orphaned baby African elephant, and started a circus with her as the central performer. After spending 16 years together, David realizes that Flora is no longer enjoying performing; she is restless and in need of interaction with other elephants. As David goes through the necessary motions to secure an appropriate place for Flora to spend the rest of her days, the difficulties sharpen and multiply. But David is committed to finding the perfect place for Flora to thrive; “I love her,” David says in the film. “And she loves me, it’s as simple as that.”
The film came together as a result of some dedicated female filmmakers at the suggestion of Miriam Cutler, who was the resident composer for Circus Flora. She felt that David’s plans for Flora’s retirement would make a good film so she reached out to her friends who were filmmakers. Producers Cristina Colissimo and Jordana Glick-Franzheim answered Colissimo’s call and managed to raise the funds to film Flora’s final performance in May 2000, and Cutler’s friend Lisa Leeman got involved as the director. As David’s plans for Flora changed as he encountered barriers, Colissimo and Glick- Franzheim filmed the entire process, which played out over ten years.
What started out as a feel-good story about David helping Flora return to Africa became an unbiased look about the problems and challenges surrounding wild elephants raised in captivity. Leeman finds a good balance of humor and fun with the difficulties and consequences of Flora and David’s struggle, so that the film is thought provoking and enjoyable to watch, despite some of the heavy issues Ultimately the film revolves around a human compassion for animals, though this compassion is sometimes misguided, instead of animal cruelty.
The producers co-founded Ahali Elephants, a non-profit to provide funds for Flora’s wellbeing, which helped relocate Flora to The Elephant Sanctuary. With the release of the film the women are also launching The Global Interactive Elephant Initiative, which is the first attempt at identifying all of the world’s captive and wild elephants in order to create awareness and improve the protection and treatment of all elephants.