Elephant Tracker: Q&A with Patricia Sims
The wild world of Patricia Sims is a vast one. For decades, the independent film producer/director has combed the planet in search of endangered ‘big brain’ animals to document how we and they live together.
The Toronto-born filmmaker has hauled film equipment beneath the Arctic Polar ice cap to film beluga whales. In Japan where she lived for 10 years, Sims submerged under the deep Pacific Ocean for dolphins and ocean conservation.
Now for the past five years, the world of Asian elephants has turned Sims’ heart inside out.
“I feel a close connection to them, ” she told me on a recent return visit to Toronto, where we met at the King Edward Hotel.
Sims’ latest project Return to the Forest is a 30-minute documentary narrated by Captain Kirk—aka William Shatner (who is a huge elephant advocate)—that examines the world of captive Asian elephants in Thailand on the verge of extinction.
The situation is so grave, street begging is just one of the sad outcomes these endangered animals face as they grapple to co-exist with humans.
TE: Why is it important to make this film?
PS: Return to the Forest is a short doc that grew from a feature documentary we are still in production with called Elephants Never Forget. I became concerned about the world’s elephants, so decided to research it.
TE: Why Thailand?
PS: It’s an interesting story between humans and elephants—the relationship and dynamic between Asian cultures and because we are running out of room on the planet for these creatures. There’s no place really left for them to go, so it was starting to become a really big problem as to what the future was going to be for Asian elephants.
TE: Tell us some highlights.
PS: The biggest was when we tracked the return of a street elephant named Jeroone back to the jungle where she later gave birth. This animal sanctuary is under the stewardship of Her Royal Highness, Queen Sirikit, the queen of Thailand, under the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation, which is the first elephant conservation organization in the world. We contacted them to see if we could film the elephant’s return. The Foundation became very supportive of our project and commissioned this short piece.
This birth was the first time the sanctuary witnessed a returned street elephant giving a live natural birth, since the foundation started in 1997. It was a big foundation success. It shows these elephants could propagate which is important for the story and to deconstruct the foundation’s success. It’s also an excellent model for other initiatives to use like in Cambodia, Borneo, Sumatra and Vietnam.
TE: You also premiered this film online on World Elephant Day. Why was this important?
PS: I am also the co-founder of World Elephant Day, which was on Aug. 12, 2012. World Elephant Day is to bring people around to the causes of elephants. It’s tough making these types of films. You need corporate sponsorship or philanthropic funding if you want to make your money back. It has to come from a place of heart. Social media has become huge in the world of independent film-making. To date we have 5, 000 Facebook friends.
TE: How has your short doc been received?
PS: Our film opened at the ARTIVIST Film Festival in Hollywood on Nov. 1, 2012 alongside the feature documentary Wild Horses and Renegades. The festival is in its ninth year and is devoted to film subjects focused on activism through art. Our film won the best short animal advocacy category there. Return to the Forest has received an Award of Excellence at the Best Shorts Competition, also in California; and the film was officially selected to screen at the Alexandria Film Festival in Washington D.C. in November 2012, and the Wild & Scenic Film Festival in Nevada City, California, on January 2013.
TE: How can people help the cause?
PS: Our website, has a list of organizations you can join. We have the choice to support organizations that help.
To view the trailer visit worldelephantday.org.