The Elephant Queen is finally coming to Kenya on Easter Sunday – several years after its nuts and bolts started coming together in a national park in Kenya. The one-and-a-half-hour documentary starring Athena, a 50-year-old matriarch and her female-only herd of wild elephants is inspired by a drought event in Amboseli National Park.
The Kenyan opening comes somewhat belatedly – almost a year after successful tours in Europe and America. The film first premiered on 27 January 2019 at the Sundance Film Festival before being screened at the Montclair Film Festival, the Sydney Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival. It then opened in theatres on 18 October 2019 and later became available for streaming on Apple TV+ on 1 November 2019.
Considering it is a Kenyan story about Kenyan elephants, it would only have been natural to have its first premiere on home ground. But few things are ever natural these days. No doubt, if you go down that rabbit hole, you will wind up in a convoluted path of economic intricacies better left alone. Anyhow, come this Easter Sunday at 5 pm, Elephant Queen will air on Citizen TV.
The story is about the eventful life of Athena and her kin. The setting is a rural area known as ‘The Kingdom’. The Kingdom is dotted with many watering holes but one hole is dear to Athena and her family. Their daily intrigues and interactions with the chameleons, dung beetles and terrapins at this hole come alive through the voice of Chiwetel Ejiofor.
A drought ultimately forces the herd to leave this comfort zone. Athena is hence forced to lead the clan on an epic journey across captivating backdrops of the African savanna. In search of new watering holes. Along the way, an intimate picture of the remarkable life of elephants begins to unfold. The joys of new offspring and the sorrows of lost life come quickly to the fore. The intertwining of the elephant story with the macro world of insects and birds offers a pick into the challenges the small creatures face living among giants. It also shows how they overcome them.
Directed by Victoria Stone and Mark Deeble, the film’s cinematography is outstanding. Kenya’s dazzling golden hour serves to stir up emotions. Producer Lucinda Englehart does an excellent job of telling Athena’s story. But Elephant Queen visibly shies away from the most critical element affecting elephants – poaching. Only rendering a fleeting mention towards the end. Perhaps, since the documentary’s primary audience was the young, such a dark theme would have been deemed inappropriate. After all, it is healthy to also celebrate some good moments.
In 2019 the Elephant Queen bagged the International Green Film Award at the Cinema for Peace Awards. That same year it won the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. It has since received a nomination for Best Science/Nature Documentary and Best Narration. Since it is highly likely you may still be indoors during Easter courtesy of the Coronavirus, give it a look. I would love to hear your views. Feel free to leave your rating below.