Click here to listen to the interview.
The first thing I told subject Lek Chailert, filmmaker Ashley Bell, and producer/co-writer John Michael McCarthy when I spoke to them on May 25, 2018, was that I almost passed on their documentary, LOVE AND BANANAS, because I can’t bear to see animals suffer. Even when it’s a documentary about saving them. The second thing I told them was that I was so glad that I hadn’t. This moving film about Chailert’s tireless efforts to save the Asian elephants in her native Thailand doesn’t skimp on how those noble creatures continue to suffer at the hand of humankind, but it also is remarkable for how it celebrates these gentle giants whose complex emotional life is so very like ours. You can’t come away from seeing LOVE AND BANANAS without a smile on your face after learning how very like us they are, and without being inspired by Chailert. In my case, I came away from both film and interview convinced that these creatures might be better than we are on every level. Not to mention the enormous respect you can’t help but feel for a woman, less than five feet in height who has started to change the way her country, and the world at large, thinks about elephants.
We went on to discuss Chailert’s “aha” moment, when she decided that the culture of keeping elephants in captivity in any form was wrong, a decision that put her at odd not only with her society as a whole, but also with her family, who had trained elephants for generations. The question of what Chailert had given up by doing so was followed by what she had received, and could have in no other way.
Other topics included elephants at play, their incredible sense of empathy, the stress they experience in captivity, and the trick of filming four-ton creatures that sometimes get jealous. For one of my last question, I asked why they thought that elephants put up with being abused by humans, and in response, Chailert told a story that brought a lump to my throat. In a good way.
The documentary began with Belle wanting to make a short film about Chailert’s work rescuing Asian elephants from owner who exploited them by taking them to her sanctuary. Belle quickly realized that the story was bigger than a short, and that the elephants would be the stars (they are in the credits by name before the humans). The result is a film that is honest, but also inspiring as it demonstrates over and over again how empathetic and self-aware these gentle giants are, and how their continued existence is in our hands. Belle’s previous work includes, as an actress, THE LAST EXORCISM and NOVITIATE. This is her feature film directorial debut. McCarthy’s previous work includes THE DAY WE CAME TOGETHER and REBELLIOUS TRUTHS.