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Elephant Landmine Survivor Documentary Opens One World Film Festival

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(c) Julia Ferdinand. Soraida Salwala, the founder of FAE's Elephant Hospital, pets Motala after her first steps on her new prosthesis.(c) Julia Ferdinand. Soraida Salwala, the founder of FAE's Elephant Hospital, pets Motala after her first steps on her new prosthesis.

The world is coming to Ottawa. On Thursday October 11, the 23rd annual One World Film Festival kicks off at Library and Archives Canada. Featuring nineteen films, including fourteen full-length documentaries and five short films, the festival is for film goers looking for a bit more during their screen time.

This year’s line-up touches on experiences such as inner city youth in major Canadian cities, the Rwandan genocide, the Arab Spring in Yemen in Egypt, Japanese internment in Canada and the economic crisis in Greece. In addition to a slam poetry performance and a panel discussion on the Arab Spring, four filmmakers will make the journey to Ottawa to speak about their films.

Before her departure, I had a chance to catch up with Windy Borman, director and producer of the festival’s opening feature, The Eyes of Thailand. The film tells the story of a woman who dedicated ten years of her life to help two elephant landmine survivors walk again.

Apt613: Have you always been an ‘elephant’ person?

Borman:I didn’t know I would be an “elephant person” until I met Motala and Baby Mosha, the two elephants in The Eyes of Thailand. And even then, it didn’t hit me until I was home from Thailand and began logging all the footage from the trip. I remember watching the footage from FAE’s Elephant Hospital and I started to weep. They were so brave and so trusting after the choices we made as humans to plant landmines had mutilated them.

I found it unacceptable to live in a world were endangered species, humans, really any sentient being, steps on landmines, so I knew I needed to do something. I knew I would never be able to write a cheque big enough to solve the problem, but I could make a film about it to start the conversation and inspire people to act.

(c) Julia Ferdinand. Windy Borman, Motala and Soraida Salwala at FAE, Elephant Hospital in Lampang, Thailand.

Apt613: What inspired you to make this film?

Borman: In 2007, I was following a theatre company in Thailand for two months to film their behind-the scenes promotional video. One day, they visited FAE’s Elephant Hospital and Soraida Salwala surprised us, spoke to me on camera for two hours, and then invited us to meet Motala and Baby Mosha, two elephant landmine survivors.

At that point, they had saved their lives, but they didn’t know if they could help them walk again. I knew I’d stumbled onto a story that I couldn’t leave, so Soraida and I stayed in touch, and in 2009, I flew back to Thailand to film the prosthesis building process. It was a very uncertain undertaking. There had never been an elephant prosthesis, so the Prostheses Foundation didn’t know whether it would be strong enough to hold their weight, and Soraida and Dr. Preecha (FAE’s head veterinarian) didn’t know whether the elephants would accept it or not.

In the end, the elephants both accepted their artificial legs and I left in August 2009, thinking I had a happy ending to the story. Then in 2010, two new elephants stepped on landmines, so I went back to film an epilogue that featured the new victims. That also gave me an opportunity to travel to Vientiane, Laos to interview landmine experts who were attending the first Cluster Munitions Convention. That really filled out the landmine side of the story and created a stronger call-to action for the film.

Apt613: What obstacles and challenges did you encounter in making this film?

Borman: Filming in a foreign country is always a challenge, but in 2009 and 2010 I hired a local Production Coordinator to be my driver/coordinator and basically “fix” everything.

The most challenging shoot I did in Thailand was filming people climb a mountain in Chiang Mai, in the rain and the mud, with brand new camera equipment. There were a couple “Indiana Jones” moments, where I had to swing around a tree trunk and cross a precariously built bridge over a ravine. There was mud and rain—and I had to go first so I could film other people doing it! It was crazy… and it all ended up on the editing room floor, never to see the light of day.

Apt613: Was any moment particularly harrowing?

Borman: In order to film a UXO (Un-exploded Ordinance) Specialist detect and explode a landmine on camera, I had to sign a release that stated I would release the company if I did something that caused an accident, if they did something, or if any other member of the tour caused an accident—and I had to give them my blood type. As a producer, I’ve created and signed all sorts of releases, but this was the first time I had to include my blood type, supposedly so if there was an accident, they could give me a blood transfusion in the field. The group was leaving without me, so I signed it, grabbed the camera and went for it. This was one of those experiences that you tell your mom about after you do it.

Apt613: If you could have a private screening with one person, who would it be and why?

Borman: I would like to have a private screening of “The Eyes of Thailand” with First Lady Michelle Obama. With her medical background and focus on environmental sustainability, I think should could be a great ally for the cause and convince President Barack Obama that the United States needs to sign the Mine Ban Treaty now. This could then help the other remaining countries fall in line, too.

When not writing for Apt613, Stephan Telka volunteers for Mines Action Canada, one of the festival sponsors. He had the pleasure of meeting Windy at the First Meeting of States Parties to the Cluster Munitions Convention in December 2010 in Vientiane, Laos. 

 

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