'Love & Bananas: An Elephant story' set to premiere on Starz
The story follows Ashley Bell and Asian elephant conservationist Sangdeaun Lek Chailert on a mission to get a 70-year old partially blind elephant home.
Ashley Bell's latest documentary 'Love & Bananas: An Elephant Story' will premier on Starz this month. Bell is the talent behind films like 'The Last Exorcism I & II,' 'Carnage Park' and 'Novitiate.' The documentary film, shot in Thailand, tries to chronicle the plight of these gentle giants through her lens for the world to see. The film aims to show the world how under the pretext of tourism and entertainment, Asian elephants are slowly becoming a rarity. Their life-threatening, soul-crushing domestication is painful, to say the least, and the worst part - all of their pain is completely neglected.
"If we want to protect them...we have to do it right now," says world-renowned Asian elephant conservationist, Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, who features in the documentary.
The documentary did not come easy.
After two years of waiting, Bell says that she finally had the opportunity to accompany Sangdeaun Lek Chailert on a daring mission. With a tight team of four, the director set out on a mission to rescue Noi Na, a 70-year old captive, partially blind trekking elephant weighing 8,000 pounds, and bring her 500 miles across to freedom in a climate as hot as 95 degrees.
The experience for her was something she would always cherish. She said: "It’s harrowing and exhilarating at the same time. On an elephant rescue, there’s no room for emotion, because emotion clouds your judgment. I’ve never been in a situation where so much could go wrong so fast. Lek had to stay so alert. Elephant rescues are rare and difficult, and we waited two and a half years to go on that rescue. It was a privilege."
"Lek provides an alternative for trekking camp owners to turn their camps into humane sanctuaries, which ends up being more profitable for the camp and also provides employment for the surrounding areas. During filming, we were documenting the efforts of Lek Chailert that have been honed and improved by her years on the frontlines," Bell added.
While African elephants get slaughtered for their ivory, these elephants have a different reality. "Most Americans only see Asian elephants in entertainment and assume the elephant is enjoying itself. When in fact, what went on for that elephant to become a creature of entertainment is behind an iron curtain," she explains. The film also displays the terrifying tradition - 'Pajan' - also known as the crush box. "Baby elephants are taken away from their mother, put in a wooden box, and their legs are tied to the box. They are then beaten for 24 hours, for a week, until the bond between the elephant and its mother is replaced by the fear of man and whatever tool the man is using (a bullhook, bamboo with a nail in it, a switch, etc.). Many die in the process," she says.
While most people are unaware of it, every single captive Asian elephant undergoes 'Pajan,' Bell added.
'Love & Bananas: An Elephant story' airs exclusively on Starz on Monday, July 30th at 9:00 PM ET/PT and will also be available exclusively on the Starz app.