The first step in effective conservation efforts is awareness. If the public is not aware of the problem, how can they learn to care about solving it? That’s where art and entertainment can play a valuable role. A strong visual, a piece of music, or a touching story can all make lasting impressions that will influence future actions by the viewer. At the International Elephant Foundation we know that inspiring people to care is a jumbo step towards the spark to action. For that purpose, one of the most powerful mediums is film. Enter, An Elephant’s Journey, a new film that sets out to teach people to care about elephants and conservation.

An Elephant’s Journey is an inspiring and heartwarming story about a young man who’s life was turned upside down and ended up on the other side of the world in the African bush, with a loving family of both humans and an elephant. While young Phoenix Wilder, played by newcomer Sam Ashe Arnold, is the central protagonist of the film, the message is one of conservation, more specifically anti-poaching. Also starring the multitalented Elizabeth Hurley, An Elephant’s Journey shows how one brave person can make a difference for wildlife. To celebrate the film’s release on DVD on October 23rd, IEF is proud to have an interview with the film’s esteemed director, Richard Boddington.

What inspired you to tell this story?

Boddington: I visited South Africa in 2014 on a location scout and I became very much aware of the scale of the elephant poaching crisis across the African continent. At the same time, I visited a number of elephant reserves and saw firsthand how easily humans could interact with well-trained elephants that were living in a natural setting. I got the idea for a movie about a boy and an elephant that unite to take down the elephant poachers. It was a fictional story of course aimed at a youth audience, but the facts behind the movie would be taken from the headlines. Three years later I was back in South Africa with Elizabeth Hurley and wonderful young star shooting the movie!

Where did you film?

Boddington: The movie was filmed entirely on location in South Africa. The elephant scenes where all filmed at a reserve in Bela Bela.

You chose to use live elephants in making this film. How did you make that decision?

Boddington: I have used live animals in all of my animal centric feature films and I have made four(4) now. I have worked with dogs, bears, wolves, lions, hyena, giraffe, cobras, and of course…elephants!

Using a real animal is key to making these films, one could use computer generated animals that is true. However, you’ll never be able to program into a computer the unpredictability of a living organism. The elephants used in this movie are great performers and did so many “unscripted” things that made it into the movie. These are moments that would have been lost using computer generated elephants. Real animals also look much better on screen and are timeless, whereas computer generated animals start to look dated after five years. Think of the Black Stallion made in 1979, it’s as powerful today as it was in 1979.

I want readers to understand that no elephants were transported to make this motion picture, we took the cast and crew to them and worked with them in their natural habitat, in Africa. There are other animals featured in the movie as well, lions and giraffe for example, and in those cases the cast and crew were moved to the location where the animals lived, not the other way around.

Do you believe interacting with, seeing, and/or experiencing elephants can help inspire people to care about their survival?

Boddington: Absolutely! It’s a game changer. If anyone spends a day with elephants in the wild they will have their views changed forever. These are the most magnificent intelligent animals on earth, true gentle giants, we can’t afford to lose them.

Did you have any interesting experiences with the elephants while on set?

Boddington: Seeing firsthand how incredibly intelligent elephants are, and how quickly and easily they learn new actions. They are highly social animals and they truly enjoy the company of humans. The lead elephant developed a clear bond with his boy co-star. There are three shots in the movie where the elephant clearly reaches out to the boy with his trunk, and touches him in an affectionate manner. This is how elephants behave with each other, and the elephant never did this to any other member of the cast or crew.

What do you hope the viewer takes away from this film?

Boddington: I am hoping that people will form an emotional bond with elephants through seeing this film. Only then do I believe that people will be motivated enough to stand up and lend their voices to help stop the slaughter. A slaughter that has now recently increased in Botswana, which has the highest elephant population in Africa.

What kinds of extras are included on the DVD?

Boddington: The DVD includes an interview with Elizabeth Hurley, she explains her commitment to elephant conservation. There is an interview with Dr. Richard Leakey, who lead the charge against the elephant poachers in Kenya. He has a wonderful conservation message for youth. There is also a 10 minute presentation on elephants by elephant expert Sean Hensman, a man who has dedicated his life to saving elephants. Sean talks about the physiology of elephants, and explains how they live as a community.

Like with all of us at IEF, Boddington, Hurley, Ashe and all the filmmakers were inspired by the elephants in their lives. That inspiration created An Elephant’s Journey, and will hopefully inspire all who watch the film. Watch the trailer and get your copy today! Remember, if you buy from Amazon, remember to start with AmazonSmile so a portion of your purchase supports IEF!

Watch the Trailer

Win A Copy of An Elephant’s Journey

The filmmakers of An Elephant’s Journey have arranged for IEF’s supporters to win a copy of their film! All you have to do is go to IEF’s Facebook page, like our page, find the post featuring the photo on the right (it’ll be posted on October 16th) and like and share that post! Make sure to comment on the post with an elephant-related photo and tell us what made you first love elephants!

Winners will be selected at random from all eligible entrants and will receive a DVD copy of the film as well as some IEF goodies!