From A Horror Flick To A Horror Documentary, Filmmaker Saves An Elephant

It’s a long journey from the horror movie The Last Exorcism to a heartfelt human interest tale with the seemingly lighthearted title of Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story. But trust me, the fiction of the former is nowhere near as horrific as the reality of the latter. Depicting the ongoing cruelty perpetrated on Asian elephants is something that should not be occurring in 21st Century. It’s barbaric and underscores man’s inhumanity to animals. This film sheds a necessary light.

The Filmmaker

Ashley Bell made her feature film debut in Lionsgate and Strike Entertainment's thriller, The Last Exorcism (2010). Her performance garnered her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and an MTV Movie Award nomination, while the film grossed nearly $70 million, worldwide.

Similar to CNN’s focus on the cruelties perpetrated on the Orca whale in the 2013 award-winning documentary Blackfish, Bell took a major departure from her acting career to take on a similar plight in Thailand. Like the Orca Tilikum held in captivity by SeaWorld, Bell’s 2018 film focuses on the mistreatment bestowed upon Noi Na, a seventy-year-old elephant forced into a life of similar cruelty.



Crush Box existence

If you’ve never heard of the torturous practice known as “The Crush Box,” this movie might come across as a harsh exposé. Ashley Bell doesn’t dare sugarcoat this cruelty (also known as “Pajan”) where young Asian elephants are beaten into submission to become down-trodden service animals.

Pajan separates the young from their mothers, forcefully putting them in a tiny fenced area that allows no movement for 24 hours, days on end. “The Crush Box” basically enslaves and brainwashes these creatures to serve and amuse humans, devoid of protest.

The Protagonist

According to a Hollywood Reporter review, “other than Bell, whose wide-eyed delight upon encountering the elephants is infectious, the film's central figure is Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, an endlessly empathetic Thai woman who has devoted her life to saving Asian elephants. Her advocacy resulted in her being declared an enemy of the state by her country and becoming estranged from her family. The government later embraced Lek after her work became internationally celebrated and she was declared a ‘Hero of Asia’ by Time magazine.”

All’s well that ends well . . .

The harsh mistreatment of elephants unfortunately also occurs in circuses and zoos around the world. And sadly, the Trump Administration eased the import of elephant trophies. These factors, coupled with the world’s largest land mammals dwindling in numbers exponentially is a dismal forecast.

However, there is good news on the horizon, as a result of this documentary reaching wide audiences. With the intervention of Bell and Chailert’s efforts, new attention is being paid to the treatment of elephants in Asia and throughout the world. While Noi Na was on death’s door when Bell started her filming, audiences will be pleased to learn she is now experiencing her well-deserved ‘happy ending," allowing her to live out her senior years in a sanctuary that caters to her daily needs.

You can find screenings debuting around the country here and check the movie's Facebook page for updates.

Sangdeaun Lek Chailert & Ashley Bell
                           Ashley Bell & Sangdeaun Lek Chailert

Primary Source: Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story