Film Review: Gardeners of Eden

Every 15 minutes, an African elephant is killed for its ivory.

It is a sad reality that exists today and has resulted in the massive drop of the number of elephants. It is very likely that within the next two decades there will be no more elephants in Africa.

However, producer Kristin Davis (Sex in the City, Couples Retreat) and directors Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg reveal that hope still exists in their documentary film Gardeners of Eden, a revealing film that showcases the work of activists and caretakers in Kenya who work everyday to save the less than 300,000 elephants that remain in Africa today.

Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who for over 40 years has pioneered the art and science of raising orphaned elephants, walks viewers through her expertise and mindset when caring for orphaned elephants. Not only is she concerned with their physical well being, but their psychological and emotional well being as well. This way, they may one day join a wild heard and live as nature intended: wild and free.

The film forgoes narration, instead using its cast of characters—the caretakers and orphaned elephants—to tell the story of their everyday lives at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. We see their interactions as caretakers rescue new orphans and accompany Kenyan Wildlife Service officers on missions to track and capture poachers. Gardeners of Eden reveals that the two species, human and elephant, are capable of profound connection as elephants find themselves in a state of desperate dependence, a dependence that the survival of their species depends.

Throughout Gardeners of Eden, caretakers speak about the elephants as persons. It is clear that these self-aware creatures understand and deal with the loss of their family in emotional ways. It is up to the staff at the Wildlife Trust to become the surrogate family for these orphans and do whatever they can to keep orphaned elephants alive.

The film even manages to take the audience into the experience of an ivory poacher. While most viewers would be appalled at someone who openly admits to poaching, the lesson is incredibly sobering. Many poach simply out of desperation because they need to support themselves when they loose their jobs. The poacher interviewed for the film, who is later caught poaching by wildlife officials and punished, understands and recognizes an elephant’s right to live. He also recognizes the reality that he benefits little from the arrangement with dealers who eventually purchase the ivory to be sold around the world. It makes for a tragic realization that this is a cancerous phenomena that won’t go away easily.

Gardeners of Eden is an immersive film that reveals a beautiful connection between humans and nature. The images and sounds beautifully capture the feeling of being in the presence of these majestic creatures in their environment while instilling the necessary urgency to the realize that, within a generation, the elephants may all be gone. The cinematography captures the beauty of Kenya’s landscape, its wildlife, and its people. Gardeners of Eden is informative and real. It does not intend to guilt its audiences into action or sadness. It simply reveals a universal theme regarding the duality of humans: they are the problem, but they have also been the answer. And quite frankly, it’s a theme that absolutely cannot be ignored.

Gardeners of Eden will open in Los Angeles at the Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 on May 1st. The film will also have its television premier exclusively on Pivot on May 6th at 9pm ET.

Official Trailer: Gardeners of Eden from Village Beat on Vimeo.

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Aaron Zamora

Aaron grew up in Whittier, California and is currently finishing his master's degree in Human Communication studies from California State University, Fullerton. His interest in journalism began in high school where he served as the Editor-in-Chief for his school’s newspaper and participated in their inaugural broadcast journalism program. An avid world traveler, Aaron has a wide array of interest that include a passion for cinema and television. He is also a sports fanatic.

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