Kat Kramer, director Stanley Kramer’s daughter, has chosen to screen this film at this time for its immediate relevance in the captive elephant movement. Hopefully the film would then fulfill its purpose of enlightening the public about the plight of elephants in the United States. It is the first film to feature Billy the Asian elephant at the L.A. Zoo who has been at the heart of an ongoing controversy for years.
The Los Angeles Zoo has recently opened its new elephant exhibit with much fanfare and publicity. But when the battle was raging in the LA City Council about whether to go forward with this project, there were important and plentiful opponents to the measure. Councilman Cardenas led the charge and brought in elephant researchers, wildlife veterinarians, and scientists as well as well known animal advocates and dozens of people who care about the welfare of elephants.
What is at the crux of the matter is that elephants belong in the wild where they have large social and familial groups, forage for their own food, walk dozens of miles every day. When they are captured, isolated from their groups, put into small places , they suffer tremendously and die young.
One of the leading causes of their early death is foot disease. Their soft pads are made to tread the soft ground for miles every day. When they are forced to stand on their feet and especially on hard ground, they quickly deteriorate. Seventeen elephants have died at the LA Zoo already. Billy who was a lone Asian male for four years until the recent import of two elderly female elephants, had developed head bobbing movements, a psychological disorder which is not known in the wild, according to pre-eminent elephant researcher Joyce Poole.
The elephant welfare fight in the Council caused the temporary stoppage of work on the 42 million dollar exhibit, but when a large financial donation was offered to keep it going, the Council changed its vote.
Melya Kaplan, executive producer of the film and founder of the nonprofit organization, Voice for the Animals Foundation has been passionate about elephants and all animals her whole life. Her goal is to educate and make the public aware of what is going on behind the scenes of wildlife captivity. Through media outreach, films iike this one, studies and every possible way to get out the information, she hopes that people will no longer want to go see elephants in the zoo. If they see an elephant, they will come to think, "Where is she from? How did she get there? What is her life like? What was her natural habitat like? What does she do all day?" "Where are her parents?" More information is available at http://www.helpbilly.org
Lily Tomlin has become a devoted elephant welfare advocate in the last four or five years, since she was invited to speak up for Ruby, another Asian elephant who used to be at the LA Zoo and has since been released to the PAWS Sanctuary in northern California where there are 2300 acres to roam She has studied and learned much about elephants in captivity and now works with In Defense of Animals and other groups to close down zoos and circuses in the United States. She has been instrumental in influencing the zoos in Seattle and Dallas. The zoo in her own native Detroit has already been closed down because they zookeeper there realized it was wrong. “Elephants do not belong in urban zoos. There just isn’t enough room, “ Tomlin says. The best we can do for our elephants who have already been brought here is to let them live out their lives in a sanctuary. “They don’t belong in captivity any more than we do.”
Along with the screening on the 20th there will be a panel discussion with Lily as well as Tippi Hedrin, Councilman Cardenas, Ed Begley Jr., Billy Bob Thornton , Christ Galucci, and other celebrity activists. The host committee also boasts an elite Hollywood group including Cher, Alec Baldwin, Robin Williams, Kathy Griffin and others.
Members of Kat's production team and several panelists have been getting together at the Stage Cafe to make a PSA about the event, send invitations and plan the evening.
This is the third film in Kramer's series. The last film was the documentatry "The Cove" which went on to win an Academy Award. Kramer is credited by the producers for her timely screening and bringing it to light to several members of the Academy who voted for it. She has received a commendation through CIty Councilman Tom LaBonge for her role in bringing socially relevant films to light in Los Angeles. It is ironic that LaBonge is now on the other side of the controversy and spoke passionately about having elephants in the L.A. Zoo during the hearings.
Kramer, an animal advocate, was brought to her convictions early on through her father's socially relevant film, "Bless the Beasts and Children." The movie's theme song was originally sung by the Carpenters. Kramer hopes to make a new recording of it soon with a children's choir.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.