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THE ELEPHANT KEEPER

Thailand, 1989 (MIFF 1991)

Director: Chatri-Chalerm Yukol

The Elephant Keeper is an exceptionally entertaining and dramatic feature film which is at once an environmental film about the dangers to Thailand's rainforests, an animal film which has all the magic of the best films about relations between humans and animals, and a film about the way in which 'development' in the Third World rarely has advantages for the people living in the areas being 'developed'.

The film focuses on Boonsong, a villager with a working elephant (considered almost a member of the family), who is dismissed from a sanctioned timber company as a result of increasing mechanisation, and forced to find employment with a powerfully connected company engaged in illegal logging of teak.

One environmental research scientist has written of the social context of The Elephant Keeper as follows: "Throughout tropical Asia and the Pacific, forests are being lost or badly degraded at a rate in excess of 9.9 million acres per year. This is roughly 4 square miles while you watch The Elephant Keeper. Continuing usage of elephants for hauling logs substantially reduces environmental damage. But there is also an emotional bias that deplores the gradual disappearance throughout Asia of this cultural expression of bonding between humans and the largest land mammal, in a world of increasing separation between humans and the natural world." (Lawrence Hamilton: 1991 East-West Center Asia-Pacific Film Tour)

The film's director Prince ChatrichalernYukol, one of Thailand's most important directors, first conceived of this film when he witnessed the ravaging of the great tropical forests of Northern Thailand, mainly by illegal loggers. The film took a year to complete, during which the crew were under constant threat of attack by illegal loggers. Prince Chatri's most recent film Song for Chao Phaya is also being screened at this year's Festival. (D.H.)

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