Waiting over two years for this opportunity, actor/director/writer Ashley Bell and her team of elephant rescuers finally get their shot to experience a 500-mile odyssey across Thailand to save 70-year-old Noi Na, a partially-blind Asian elephant.
Led by conservationist Sangdeun Chailert or "Lek", which means "small" in Thai, this low-in-numbers but mighty group of devoted saviors and filmmakers spent a very dangerous 48 hours bringing this frightened, downtrodden elephant to Lek's Elephant Nature Park in this amazing documentary "Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story".
While the plight of the African elephants receives more exposure because they are slaughtered for their ivory, the Asian elephants' story has been mostly overlooked. These are the elephants we are the most familiar with as they are the ones seen in zoos, circuses and elephant rides.
But what we don't know, until now, is how these animals are "broken" using a process known as Pajan, or The Crush Box. In Disney's animated film "Dumbo", when baby Dumbo is separated from his mother --- a scene that NEVER fails to make me sob --- it's nothing compared to what is done to these babies in real life. This "secret" of The Crush Box is beyond cruel --- a truly tortuous training which is inflicted upon every elephant doomed to become a service animal.
At an early age, Lek became aware of this gross injustice perpetrated upon these magnificent beasts. In the 1990's she began rescuing injured, neglected and elderly elephants, eventually establishing a permanent homeland in Northern Thailand. This beautiful setting is the Elephant Nature Park where she, Bell and the rest of the crew take Noi Na to live out the rest of her days.
Lek has received many honors for her tireless work. In 2005 she was recognized by Time Magazine as the "Hero of Asia", and in 2010 she was honored by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as one of six Woman Heroes of Global Conservation for her dedication to protecting Asian elephants. And again in 2017 Lek was invited President Macron of France to speak at the "Global Pact for the Environment" Summit at the United Nations in New York City.
"Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story" is an important and educational documentary. Bell has done an exemplary job bringing the truth of what these animals face every day --- and their unforgivable mistreatment --- to the forefront. And Lek says in the film "elephants are the color of the planet" --- and she wouldn't want to live in a world without them. Neither would I.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Movies about endangered animals are frequently difficult to watch. "Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story" ", written and directed by actress Ashley Bell, is no exception, but only in the beginning of this important documentary.
Much of Bell's story is actually upbeat as we learn about elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. Here Asian elephants, officially listed as "endangered", thrive in a special environment where they can roam free --- unfettered from performing in circuses or giving rides to tourists.
For the record, African elephants, currently numbering around 450,000 in the wild, are labeled as "threatened". This breed is larger than their Asian counterparts, whose numbers are significantly less at about 45,000, thus the urgency of Bell's film about Asian elephants.
Once we get past footage of baby elephants being separated from their mothers, and submitting to cruel methods of obedience, "Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story" focuses on one female elephant, 70 years old and partially blind, who has known only captivity and bondage by humans her entire life. Bell, along with well-known elephant conservationist Lek Chailert, and several workers, struggle to load Noi Na onto a truck for transport some 500 miles away to Lek's sanctuary in her native Thailand.
This dangerous journey is captured on film, and it is followed by the gradual infusion of Noi Na into the current herds of elephants who have been saved by Chailert. We learn that Lek has rescued some 240 animals from their life of drudgery and toil.
The film is a true labor of love for all involved. It's heartwarming to see elephants, once the slaves of men, frolicking in the mud, commingling, and generally relishing what elephants are meant to be doing.
"Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story" is a powerfully told story about the world's gentle giants, who in reality, just need food, freedom and respect from mankind.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!