Home » HBO Documentary Film: AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS


by Jef Dinsmore
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Overview: Elephants, both the Asiatic and the African for centuries, have been adored, have inspired great works of art, and even have beeApologyElephants_poster1n revered as gods, yet they have also been treated with cruelty. AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS explores the abuse of these ancient and intelligent animals and shows how some people are reversing the trend. It describes the often-brutal treatment elephants undergo when they are trained to perform, the psychological trauma they suffer and the physical damage done by inadequate living conditions in some zoos and circuses. In addition to this footage of elephants in the wild and in captivity, AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS  also includes interviews with elephant biologists, scientists and activists, including the  Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)co-founders Ed Stewart and the late Pat Derby; Dr. Joyce Poole, director of the conservation group Elephant Voices; Colleen Kinzley, curator at Oakland Zoo; Dr. Joel Parrott, director of Oakland Zoo; Dr. Mel Richardson, a captive wildlife veterinarian; Katy Payne, founder of the Elephant Listening Project; Cynthia Moss, director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants; and Dr. Raman Sukumar, a professor at the Indian Institute of Science.

Expectations: I expect to get pissed off. I expect to see some hope, and then I might get a little sad. Naturally this documentary is going to show the viewer the mistreatment these majestic animals face around the world as entertainment and as work machines.Apologyelephants_tomlin As I sigh, let me say it is best I don’t get too riled up about this piece before I even see it. I’ll let it play first.  

Review: Yep, I’m pissed. I’m just as pissed as the bull elephant in the china shop. And I think I’m that expressly emotive for two reasons. First, I’ll be honest enough to reveal that I am one of those “nature boy” types. I feel, as one of the “intelligent’ animals on this sphere that we should be stewards to the other species that we share this planet with. I think the other reason for this emotive state is because I have been watching and reviewing so many documentaries as of late that I see homo sapiens as an evil animal wreaking havoc on each other and the planet. Simply, we treat Mother Earth like shit.

But, I am here to review this documentary. So, as I take a deep breath, and probably turn away a few with the approach I have taken here, I can say – who would have that that Lily Tomin would not only narrate this piece but also be Executive Producer? It turns out to be a nice voice for this piece. AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS clearly shares with us the plight the maligned beast as gone through at our expense and highlights those who have made efforts to improve their status as a species before they go extinct.

It is odd, however, while watching it that my mind went to thinking more about the human animal and not the unique pachyderm. Though I appreciate and like the elephant species my focus wasn’t so much on thoughts of “oh, those poor animals”mbut more in the tone of “why do humans have to be so cruel and destructive.” The documentary is, thankfully, balanced with some humanity striving to apologize and do well by aiding as many elephants as their space and other resources allow. It is better than doing nothing. Their efforts, in some small way, do matter, but it is not enough.HBO-elephants

In Conclusion: This short 40 minute documentary is not for everyone. If you see animals as resources to be used for our amusements and hard jobs then this won’t matter. But, for those with compassion and concern will be drawn to it and left heartbroken. If you have read my reviews of ONE NATION UNDER DOG and PROJECT NIM  my feelings here should be no surprise to readers. Watch AN APOLOGY TO ELEPHANTS for yourselves and form your own opinion. I’ll bet you’ll be pissed off as well. Just come back here and let us know how you feel.

Other HBO air dates: 04.25 at 8:45am; 04.27 at 4:15pm; 04.30 at 10:15am and 05.05 at 10:15am; 05.09 at 1:15pm and 05.13at 5:30pm.It also plays on HBO Family and HBOGO.

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Kevin Storm January 15, 2014 - 6:27 pm

Will be seeing this at Bluestockings Cafe, Bookstore & Activist Center in NYC this weekend. Look for me @kevinVstorm #TheKevinStormShow

Jef Dinsmore January 15, 2014 - 7:34 pm

Kevin, please come back here and offer us your opinion.

GizaDog December 19, 2013 - 2:11 pm

HBO needs to open this up to everyone to see.

Mandy Ramos November 20, 2013 - 2:14 pm

Me and my daughter watched it together. We were shocked, heartbroken, and appalled. We had nightmares for weeks. We have boycotted the circus the last 2 times they came. We will do all we can in our power to spread the knowledge of this abuse.

Kristle November 14, 2013 - 8:20 am

I have known about this abuse for many years and would not take my child to the circus and he knows why and totally supports this! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making this film and teaching so many who are unaware of what actually goes on and has gone on for so long! <3

Natasha November 11, 2013 - 8:45 pm

I felt sick watching the “truth” behind the scenes of circus and zoos…. We need to spread the word……..

Toni August 21, 2013 - 12:57 pm

I have never understood how an Elephant can be entertainment in a captured setting..It is all about greed…I think it is sad that people are not educated enough to understand what the Elephant goes through to make us “happy”..I wish all individuals can see the whole picture….great video..HBO..It is nice to see someone with power speak up……

SRT May 31, 2013 - 6:07 pm

the True will hopefully set them FREE . thank you HBO

SWEng May 29, 2013 - 9:42 pm

Thank you for this documentation and bring awareness to the general public. It is very sad and I cried. I posted this on my facebook account and hope more people will watch this and be aware of how elephants are treated and stop going to circus. I will never ride an elephant or watch any elephants performance ever.

BiancaA May 20, 2013 - 8:28 am

I have old everyone they need to watch this. Such a great documentary. And like it stated zoos can be changed, circuses can’t. So I’m wondering how to research if my local zoo is being responsible about the animals like the Oakland zoo is? They are having some fundraisers this summer I was planning to o to but need to know if my contribution is well spent.

Susan Taunton May 15, 2013 - 8:37 am

Is the film available anywhere now that its HBO airing date is in the past?

Kevin Storm January 16, 2014 - 2:57 am

Small screenings avail. Put one on yourself. Raise awareness. https://www.facebook.com/events/598076703600955/

Susan Taunton July 29, 2014 - 4:31 pm

how do i begin to do this?

Linda Chambers May 14, 2013 - 8:55 pm

I just returned from working with elephants in Thailand at Patara Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai. We worked with their elephants for two weeks, the therapy is Vibrational Sound Therapy. I watched this HBO series last evening and I was so sad. So sad. The abuse to the elephants is severe. It is a story that unfortunately has to be told. Please watch it, the elephants are in need of our compassion.

I worked with the elephants for 2 weeks. At Patara, they are living as elephants should be. No performances. Elephant Health Recovery is the focus. They rescue elephants from abuse, and allow them to live. The herd consists of 38 healthy elephants, with another 8 babies on the way!! Hats off to this small operation that is successfully returning Asian Elephants to the life they deserve.

First elephant I worked with, Ploy, was rescued from the circus. As I approached her, the pupils were tiny, a sign of stress, Ploy is a loner, she does not know how to interact as her life in the circus did not allow her to do that. Her pupils were tiny, a sign of stress as I began playing the singing bowls. Within 10 minutes, she was more relaxed, her pupils dialed, her eyes rolling back in the sockets. The entire team was excited. As our work continued, she was totally happy to welcome me each day.

The elephants I worked with besides Ploy loved the therapy. This clearly shows us all that the elephants are willing to change, to relax. We need to be compassionate. My work with them will continue I am hooked.

Donna Swiecicki Hale May 27, 2013 - 2:16 pm

wow! That must have been a wonderful experience! I would love to help in some way. So happy to hear there is a place like this!

Keri Lathrope May 14, 2013 - 6:56 pm

I am devastated, completely heartbroken. I couldn’t take
anymore. I want to change my whole profession and do something that makes a
difference and attempt to correct the awful and despicable things us humans can
do. Elephants are my favorite animal and I always knew abuse was in play here,
but chose to stay ignorant to it because I knew I would be in pain, until now.

We can and have been an awful species. We take what we want,
do what we what, with whatever we want! Who do we think we are? What makes our
life more valuable than animals? This is not OUR world. We share it with
billions of other species and animals. What gives us the right to take a life
and abuse and torture it to do what we want and for our entertainment?

I hope change will come.

AlFredo May 13, 2013 - 3:38 pm

We no justification for using any animal as a resource. Thanks for this documentary.

Sarah Bamford Seidelmann May 13, 2013 - 7:17 am

I have not been able to watch it yet- trying to get to another frineds house to do so. I am so interested in dreaming of a future where Elephants and Humans are living in harmony again. I adore the work of Allison Argo who has done much to tell positive stories about what is possible if we work together! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0Z_vRYQ_Sg&list=PL0962D922B77483AC&index=4

Linda Chambers May 18, 2013 - 9:25 pm

That story is amazing. I am left in tears. I love this story. Thank you for sharing this.

pisces1414 May 10, 2013 - 11:27 pm

Hard to watch but necessary to see.. Who gave us the right to do this. im want to shut down the circus, what are my resources tho.

ellie May 9, 2013 - 2:23 pm

I just watched this film and it completely moved me to tears. I broke down several times throughout and cried like a baby. I have always loved elephants and seeing this opened my eyes to the stark and harsh reality of what we are doing to them. I have never been to the circus but I can’t believe anyone would ever go particularly after seeing this film.

Stephen Stankiewicz May 5, 2013 - 12:05 pm

I just watched the HBO documentay and I feel that the world needs to watch this documentary because we really never know behind the scenes what is going on with these poor creatures that are mistreated by mankind. Circus Elephants should become a thing of the past! At least the people in America should take a stand on this issue! One of the most wonderful creatures on the planet and humans thinking they are the almighty beings! I am angry!

ErinNoel April 28, 2013 - 10:02 pm

I am so grateful to HBO and Lily Tomlin, for making this terribly overdue film. It is one of those documentaries I wish I could force the world to watch. On behalf of every one of us who regularly protest circuses that use animals, zoos, traveling animal fairs, etc., thank you so much for taking awareness up a few notches.

dk April 28, 2013 - 7:43 pm

i just finished watching it.. OMG..i had no idea.. i am completely traumatized… i couldn’t even sit still… i kept turning away from the tv screen and was crying my eyes out the whole time with a totally new territory of pain.. Aside from the fact that these animals are INCREDIBLE creatures that have an important role in their habitats, they are also such intelligent beings… if you put their size aside, torturing them is like torturing a human toddler who is capable of understanding a lot, and mentally and emotionally aware of most things that is going around itself.. forget their size!!!!!! think of a “HUMAN TODDLER” it is disgusting and makes me hurt to my core!!!! I had a very low opinion of the human kind.. i think it just hit to a new low!!!! I just can’t believe i have been such an ignorant idiot and not know of such torture on these animals before…

bebe April 30, 2013 - 3:46 am

i also felt guilty for my lack of awareness, and felt even worse cause i’ve always had these instincts regarding elephants but never acted on them. thx to this film i’m inspired to get involved somehow. i’ve never before felt quite this moved by any cause.

claire April 28, 2013 - 4:45 pm

i was looking for something to watch and clicked on the video not knowing that it would so sad i thought it would gust show the beauntyful animals and talk about them and give a few facts about them i didn’t know it would be so sad and to think that people do that its so sad

Lucy White 940 395 3652 April 27, 2013 - 6:48 pm

Watch this documentary and think, think hard about who we are..who you are. The footage is hard to watch. I was making dinner and broke down over a bunch of kale. The best reproach is to take action. As others have said don’t support the Ivory trade in anyway and boycot circus’s. I have a young daughter who I know would love to see elephants in a circus. We have lost that privelege. I wept tears but tears that do nothing to save elephants.

Lol April 28, 2013 - 11:01 am

I totally agree. I sat there crying for about an hour. My mom never let me go to a circus and now I know why.

naomi April 27, 2013 - 11:54 am

I taped it when it premiered and finally got around to watching a couple weeks later. Think I was afraid to though, because sure enough, the training footage was torture to watch. It’s obvious to anyone with common sense that there is nothing natural about those tricks, therefore training them must be hurtful. The whole thing robs elephants of their right to a natural, peaceful existence.

Elephants are beautiful and have a special place in my heart. I hope Lily Tomlin continues to tell their story and examine what we can do to stop poaching (I just don’t understand the appeal of ivory. Don’t.) and elephant shows for tourists (especially overseas, like in Thailand).

~RHONDA~ April 25, 2013 - 11:09 am

We were planning on goin to B&B Circus this weekend but not after watchin this documentary. I was appalled at the treatment and training methods used not only 100 years ago but currently. I train horses and we do not use harsh methods, they are respected and you get more out of them if the relationship is a partnership of trust, understanding and respect. The same must be true of elephants. Just look in their eyes and you can see the intelligence,

Thank you for showing that there is hope for the captive elephant, that their mental well being must be satisfied and some zoos are attempting to “think outside the box”. Thinkin these elephants can be returned to their “natural habitat” is unrealistic so dealing with their presence in a must.
I commend the activist for fighting for these massive animals…THANK YOU

RNH April 24, 2013 - 12:55 pm

It made my daughter cry, we did not know how graphic it was going to be and unfortunately she saw the electrocution which was just awful! I am a conservationist and circuses and zoos who practice managing these beautiful animals in this was should be ashamed!

Donna Swiecicki Hale May 27, 2013 - 2:14 pm

the electrocution scene killed me…I could barely watch the documentary in its entirety.


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