Directed by Erika and Bernard Thomas | Reviewed by Samiksha Periwal
The concept of peaceful coexistence between humans and animals is considered to be ancient, however the beauty of this kind of living is what a modern man fails to grasp amidst the technological wonders of contemporary times. This film covers the documentation of the directors’ journey to Africa and a letter written to Romain Gary who is the author of ‘The Roots of Heaven’, the first ecological novel. Gary was also fascinated by saving elephants and his works have thus inspired the directors to create this piece called ‘In the Shadow of the Elephants’. The beautiful landscapes captured throughout their journey are an absolute delight to the eyes of the audience. The director’s love for nature, animals and elephants to be specific is pretty evident and by the end of their audio-visual travel diary you can rest assured to completely fall in love with the beauty and innocence of these extraordinary creatures made by God.
This documentary film captures nature from a very intimate perspective, wherein it tries to touch upon the lives of the tribals, the huge landscapes of forests, villages and various animals, relaxing in the wild far away from the real world. While this may all seem surreal, it is actually true and clippings of the local people, animals bathing, basking under the sun, feeding their children, playing among each other and a lot more have been wonderfully showcased through this film. There is a special emphasis on elephants as the title suggests, their entire day has been recorded and exhibited, allowing audiences seated miles away to appreciate the wonders of these innocent creatures. There are places where people have adopted elephants and raised them; the filmmaker herself adopted a juvenile elephant named it Jotto. These elements are part of the movie’s attempt to educate audiences about the unwavering love that animals have for people and the increasing need for those same people to safeguard and care for animals in return.
The letter to Romain Gary is another constant element throughout this film which is quite useful to present the contrast between the two different time frames of documenting information on these animals and the locals. The director also feels near the end that because they themselves have documented and displayed their first-hand experience of the journey, forty years after reading the book, their tongue is finally set free. There are a few philosophical pieces of advice in the film which may come across as useful to many such as the need to search for meaning, the context of one’s life and its significance in the broader sense. This occurs in the documentary’s second half, when we see very different unhappy pictures of death from the documentary’s opening, joyful images of life and laughing. It pushes you to think on a deeper level and encourages you to value life because, at its core, it is a battle with death.
Technically speaking, the shifts from slow motion, time-lapse, still images and multiple angle shots are quite impressive and the sequencing of the film keeps it going till the end. The initial few minutes however seem to be a little haywire, leaving you wondering cluelessly about what will happen next. While it might be fascinating for some, it might also be boring for others, and the resolve to stick it out until the finish might not be very helpful. One of the attractions of this movie is undoubtedly the personal touch of the directors, who had their moments captured and up-close footage taken of their encounters with the wild.
Overall, this documentary is calming to the soul and pleasing to the eyes. After you’ve finished seeing the movie, it will unquestionably feel like a warm hug from nature and her inhabitants. Additionally, it is informative and conveys a very positive message about the love and peaceful cohabitation between people and nature, which has been lost due to technology but must be quickly restored if we are to have a better future.
Samiksha Periwal is an 20 year old student from Kolkata, West Bengal. She is an enthusiast, eager to learn and explore. She has done her schooling from Lakshmipat Singhania Academy, Kolkata and is currently a student of Christ University, Bangalore pursuing a triple major in BA Psychology, Sociology and English. She is a passionate writer and has won many laurels for her school through the years.