Richard Boddington’s upcoming film, Phoenix Wilder: And The Great Elephant Adventure, is a story about families. There are all kinds of families. Animals have families, too, but what happens when a boy tries to help an African bull elephant find its family?
I think it’s fair to say that many people were upset with Donald Trump’s decision to reverse his promise to ban elephant hunt trophies, and despite the ban on the international trade of ivory, tens of thousands of elephants are being killed every year for their tusks. It’s not a coincidence that Boddington’s film—which comes to select theatres through Forward Thinking Film Distribution and Fathom Events—will be released on international “Save the Elephant Day” on April 16.
About Phoenix Wilder
Phoenix Wilder: And the Great Elephant Adventure is a Canadian film, and a story about a 13-year-old American boy (Sam Ashe Arnold) who loses his parents in an accident, and is sent into foster care. Unhappy with his foster parents, Phoenix is excited to learn that his Aunt Sarah (Elizabeth Hurley), who lives in Africa with her husband, Jack (Tertius Meintjes), wants Phoenix to be part of their family. Aunt Sarah’s home is part of a huge animal reserve which is home to many animals. The majestic scenery of the African plains offers the moviegoers glimpses of different animals and vegetation. Elizabeth Hurley has been a passionate defender of the beautiful elephants for a decade, and Space for Giants is a call to humanity on elephant conservation.
When his Uncle Jack takes Phoenix on an inspection safari, Phoenix is accidentally left behind. While Sarah, Jack, and Colonel Ibori (Hlomla Dandala) and his wildlife rangers search the African plains for the terrified boy, Phoenix rescues a mighty bull elephant. They become friends and Phoenix names the elephant Indlovu, which means “Unstoppable One.” Phoenix and Indlovu try to find the poachers, led by Blake von Stein (Louis Minnaar), before the poachers can sell Indlovu’s mate and baby to a private zoo.
Producer and director Richard Boddington has done it again. Mr. Boddington has taken the plight of a beautiful creature, and brought its cause to the public in the form of a wonderful family film. The film covers the effects of widespread, illegal poaching in a tasteful and child-friendly way. Phoenix and Indlovu show us that we are all a part of nature’s family. And, when a family member is in trouble, we must do whatever we can to save them.
Talking With Richard Boddington About Elephants
Gilbert: It’s great to talk with you again, Mr. Boddington. I watched Phoenix Wilder and the Great Elephant Adventure and truly loved the film and its message.
Richard Boddington: Thank you for watching, and thanks for the positive feedback.
Gilbert: What prompted you to do this film about elephants when there are so many endangered animals that live in Africa?
Richard Boddington: I came up with the idea while location scouting for Against The Wild 2 in South Africa in 2015. The elephant is a “keystone” species, and under serious threat from ivory poachers. 30,000 elephants a year are being killed to fuel the worldwide demand for ivory. Millions have been killed since the 1970s, and there is no sign of it slowing down. I wanted a movie that would be a hybrid film, part fiction, and part conservation message. I feel that if audiences can develop an emotional bond with elephants via film, they’ll be much more likely to take action in their own way.
Gilbert: Where was the majority of Phoenix Wilder filmed?
Richard Boddington: South Africa.
Gilbert: Were there any concerns about working with elephants in the wild?
Richard Boddington: The elephants are not “in the wild” per se. They live on a special reserve in South Africa. So they are in the wild in the sense that they live in their native habitat, however, they have humans caring for them. They are free to roam around a huge property and are very well cared for, the keepers ensure they always have enough food and water, and they are under 24-hour guard.
Gilbert: Did you encounter any poachers while filming Phoenix Wilder?
Richard Boddington: No, we were quite far away from where the poachers are operating. The poachers have returned to the Kruger National Park in the North East part of South Africa, but we were filming hundreds of miles away from Kruger.
Gilbert: What was the hardest part of getting this film produced and, do you have widespread support for your movies from the people of Africa? Are they also worried about saving the elephants?
Richard Boddington: There is great concern amongst the people of the various African nations regarding the elephants. Many local groups are doing what they can. More than 1000 African rangers have been killed in battles with elephant poachers since the 1970s.
Gilbert: What is the next film that you’re working on?
Richard Boddington: I’m working on a film called Ocean Odyssey, which is about a family that embarks on a trans Pacific Ocean voyage together. The film will present a strong message about ocean conservation.
Meet Young Actor Sam Ashe Arnold!
Gilbert: Hi Sam. You were wonderful in Phoenix Wilder. Tell us a bit about yourself and what other films you were in. What are you working on now?
Sam Ashe Arnold: Thanks! I’ve been acting in film since I was 11, but this was my first out-of-country shoot and my first time working with animals. Younger audiences might recognize me from Adventure Club or High-Rise Rescue. And I just finished shooting a family-friendly eight-part comedy series that will premiere late this summer. In between projects, I attend a regular high school with a great Arts Program, so I keep learning about my craft.
Gilbert: What was your reaction to know that you would be working with Richard Boddington?
Sam Ashe Arnold: I met Richard nearly a year before we shot Phoenix Wilder, and I remember being impressed that he was not only a writer, director, editor, and sometimes cinematographer, but he was also a producer and heavily involved in distribution. He does everything! When I found out that I was cast, I was happy to know I was going to learn so much about filmmaking. He’s full of great stories about his projects.
Gilbert: What was the hardest part for you in doing this film? Location, weather, or the heat?
Sam Ashe Arnold: It wasn’t a tough shoot at all! We filmed in March and April, which is the fall season in Africa, so it was pretty mild. The sweat and sunburn were all make-up! I suppose at first, I was a little concerned that there was a cast member assigned to clear each area of venomous snakes and poisonous spiders, but I got used to the idea that we were in their habitat and that chances were they’d take off as our convoy rolled in
Gilbert: What was it like to spend most of your time working with such a huge co-star? Would you work with elephants again?
Sam Ashe Arnold: I was overwhelmed when I got introduced to Chova and Chishuru (who together play “Indlovu”). They’re massive animals, but they move so gracefully and they really take you in as they decide how much they like and trust you. Luckily, we hit it off right away and I ended up becoming quite attached to Chova, in particular. I remember thinking that it might seem a bit odd that Phoenix keeps up a one-sided monologue with an elephant, but they’re so smart and attentive that it was totally natural to chat away with them.
One moment that amazed me was when we filmed the scene where we come across an elephant that had been killed for his tusks. It was just a foam elephant shape, so we didn’t expect any recognition or response at all from my co-star. But as soon as I fell to my knees, “Indlovu” picked up on the emotion and delivered a touching performance, seeming to grieve right along with me. The whole crew just held their breath. It was an incredible experience overall. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Gilbert: What message would you like to share with other young people about animal conservation and endangered species?
Sam Ashe Arnold: We have to remember that we all share the planet and that it’s up to humans to make sure we are doing so responsibly. If we don’t speak up against poor conservation practices, we risk losing beautiful species forever. Imagine having to explain to our grandchildren that we let elephants become extinct.
I encourage young people to educate themselves and help raise awareness in others. For example, some people think that ivory comes from elephant tusks that have simply fallen out, like baby teeth! Everyone needs to know the truth about the ivory trade.
It’s also important to realize that many endangered species are in trouble simply because they are competing with people for space, food, and water. We have to protect natural habitats even as our own population grows. Support conservation groups that focus on creating protected lands and parks for the benefit of whatever wild animals you love. You’ll find plenty of groups on social media who can share ideas for how you can make a difference.
All photo credits: Patrick Toselli