Highlighting Filmmakers: “Elephants: Blood Ivory”

Elephants: Blood Ivory (2012) is a documentary short and follow-up to The Ivory Role (2010).  Blood Ivory presents a grimmer picture regarding the illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching. Below is the video:

Inspiration for the Video:

Since The Ivory Role two years ago, I’ve remained outspoken against the illegal ivory trade and knew I wanted to make a follow-up video with a stronger call to action.  An article in National Geographic’s October 2012 issue, combined with the staggering numbers of elephants that were slaughtered in 2011, and the worst isolated poaching incident since 1989 taking place in January 2012, it became clear to me that a more dramatic follow-up video needed to be produced – and that the sooner the better.

I began my research and started sifting through articles and statistics in February to complete a mock-grant proposal to establish a foundation for the conservation of elephants.  The key component of my mock organization was that video production would yield a viral voice for elephants worldwide.

China as Villain:

My research and the National Geographic article yielded a staggering similarity – China is the largest consumer of illegal ivory, even after they’d been granted rights to legally purchase ivory from South Africa.  China petitioned and was granted these rights by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which enacted the ivory ban in 1989.  The idea was that China would flood the market with low-priced, legal ivory and China did the opposite, fueling the illegal ivory trade further.

Why the Darker Tone:

I approached Elephants: Blood Ivory in a drastically more serious way.  I used upbeat combinations of pictures and sounds for The Ivory Role, when poaching was still a very real threat to elephants.  But since reports suggested poaching incidences were increasing, I thought a more dramatic and “to the core” tone were in order.  This is a serious issue that can’t be glossed over.  It’s not pretty, and withholding the images and merely describing the horror has an adverse effect.  To create such a sense of anxiety, I couldn’t limit exposure to images of poached elephants, as I had done before – that wouldn’t create a much-needed sense of urgency – a feeling I wanted to generate with Blood Ivory.

Inspiration for Artwork:

I created and incorporated elephant artwork to offer a sense of relation and consistency between Blood Ivory and The Ivory Role.  For this art, I viewed over a hundred samples of African tribal art and used many of the three-dimensional (or illusion of) and abstract elements to create the primary photo for Blood Ivory.  From there I manipulated copies and color.  I knew I wanted to raise awareness, so it was a natural inclination to digitally modify the colors so they appeared darker and red.

I also knew I wanted variations of the same work – so I cut out the border of Africa and reprinted it on another photo.  This allowed the same piece of art some abstract versatility.

Why Blood Ivory Almost Wasn’t (yet):

As we all know, the best laid plans often go awry – that was the case with The Ivory Role (which was never intended to be an anti-poaching video initially) and so was the case with Blood Ivory.  Since I’d obtained permissions from the St. Louis Zoo to shoot footage of the Zoo’s Asian Elephants for The Ivory Role – I wanted to incorporate a larger subject, which would have required a moderately more substantial budget and travel.  I wanted African Elephants.  Unfortunately, in or near St. Louis, the closest African Elephants reside at the Kansas City Zoo – and communications never fully materialized between myself and the KC Zoo’s public relations department.

In a bind, I contacted and received permissions once again from the generous St. Louis Zoo.  I had booked my shoot – to be cleared by public relations and security, only to have my car breakdown, an event that seriously jeopardized the production (luckily I was able to reschedule and weather permitted).  When I finally shot the video, I knew I wanted to emphasize Ivory as much as possible, so I focused filming efforts almost exclusively on Raja, the Zoo’s only adult male Asian Elephant.

Musical Selection:

I searched for three weeks to find the perfect combination of sounds to score Blood Ivory with.  In the end, it came down to an elephant sounds track, an oriental Buddha track, a tribal-African chorus track, and the “Why So Serious Theme” from The Dark Knight.  Together I think they all flow and blend well with one another and the music, in large creates a great deal of the tension.

Goal of Blood Ivory:

My hope is that my docu-shorts like The Ivory Role and Blood Ivory will not only help generate a viral voice for elephants, but that they will hopefully inspire other aspiring filmmakers or environmentalists to take up the cause and to express themselves through the medium of video.

Primarily though, I want the viewers to follow-through with the call to action – I hope people will take the opportunity to contact CITES to express their concerns, considering the upcoming convention to discuss the future of elephants in March 2013.  Their website, which is listed at the end of Elephants: Blood Ivory is www.cites.org.

I hope this video inspires, at the very least, one person to either assist in the generation of the elephants’ viral voice or to become involved on the ground, through monetary contribution, or just through an e-mail to CITES – to help save elephants and to curb the illegal ivory trade and poaching.

That is my hope.  If I’ve left any questions unanswered, or you’d like to know anymore about Elephants: Blood Ivory, please use the comments section for discussion.  General comments are welcomed and encouraged as well.  Please help spread the word.





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