Lisa Leeman’s documentary One Lucky Elephant is similar to the 1990s fact-based features Buddy and Gorillas in the Mist starring, respectively, Rene Russo and Sigourney Weaver, as humans living closely with wild animals. All three films study the paradigm of inter-species relationships. In Lucky David Balding, who is childless, adopts a baby African elephant named Flora, and makes her the star of the circus he owns, naming it after the tusker: Circus Flora.
The doc follows the touching bond between human and pachyderm, and what happens when the two must inevitably go their separate ways. After Flora demonstrates belligerent behavior, like Iraq War veterans and the ex-Panthers of Night Catches Us, she is diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Can elephants caught in the wild after supposedly witnessing their parents’ murder by poachers suffer from this syndrome, like their afflicted Homo sapiens counterparts? Well, they say that an elephant never forgets.
This nonfiction film, co-written by Leeman and Cristina Colissimo, poses, but does not answer, this and other questions. I have experienced elephants firsthand several times at Thailand, such as at the Elephant Hills camp near Khao Sok National Park, and found this doc to be compelling and intriguing. Flora may be lucky, but due to his interaction with her, Balding is also one lucky human. In a sensitive, moving way One Lucky Elephant shows the love that can exist between man and beast, explores the nature of that affection and is a worthwhile picture for children of all ages.
Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based film historian, critic, author, freelance writer and wag who wrote the Oct. 26, 2001 Tucson Weekly cover story“Tinseltown’s Tombstone, A Look at the Real and Reel Wyatt Earp.”