A sacred animal in Thailand, yet often abused and used to promote tourism, elephants are fast disappearing. Today there are less than 5,000 of these giants in Thailand, while at the turn of the century there were more than 100,000. As I witnessed young elephants tortured and beaten into submission with hooks and restraints —in order to break their spirits so that they can be more easily manipulated and trained for capital gains such as elephant painting—my heart sank a bit.
This poignant film explored the plight of the abused and dwindling population of elephants in Thailand, and also documented the hard-working managers of the Bangkok Elephant Hospital and other conservationist efforts. The filmmaker in attendance, producer/director Don Tayloe, commented in his question-and-answer period that he's unsure if he'll be able to return to Thailand, as his arrest could be imminent. His passion to bring attention to these long-suffering animals is commendable.
Early evening of Day 8 took me to the Filmmaker/Sponsor Reception at Mo Tav in downtown San Luis Obispo. At this good-fun private party, I had the opportunity to speak with Joel Conroy (director of Waveriders), as well as some of the sponsors and board and advisory members of the film festival. Mo Tav provided the appetizers, martinis, and beer; winemaker John Anderson of St. Hilaire Winery allowed us to indulge in several of his rich, complex red wines.
A candid shot of director Joel Conroy, drinking a beer and conversing.
Another scene from the evening—winemaker John Anderson on the far left, and actor James Cromwell.
Later that evening, Day 8 of the festival transported me to the underworld of the East End of London, England in The End. As I watched this true-life exposé, told firsthand by cockney gangsters, I felt as if I was immersed in a world in which I didn't belong. The filmmaker, Nicola Collins, was in attendance (the daughter of one of the gangsters) as well as her twin sister. Growing up, Nicola and her sister never knew until the age of about 11 what their father did for a living; they thought he was a car dealer or jeweler and found out from others about his role as a criminal. Nicola had a hard time convincing her father to consent to making the film, but after much persuasion she was allowed to film and interview each "crew" member for two hours, ending up with several hours of footage.
Filmed in black and white, she captured a very sensitive subject in an unobtrusive yet visceral manner, even though she wasn't allowed to film them on a day-to-day basis in their daily "work" lives. These men spoke with brutal honesty and candor about the realities of living a life of crime, and had it not been for Nicola's ties to her father and the trust that the men featured in this documentary felt for her, this film never would have been made. All born into poverty and striving for a better life, these men found an unashamed life in crime and remain bound by a code of honor. The bloody history and confessions in this film were unsettling yet existent.
After the film, as we were leaving the theater, I spoke with a friend of Nicola's who assured me that no one had incurred repurcussions as a result of this film being made.
I have my own gangster story to tell about the stepson of a Japanese Yakuza—but I'll save that for a later day.