Directed by Michael Webber, rated PG.
By our guest blogger, Joel Crabtree
Fascinating people and hot-button subjects are two marks of a fool-proof documentary. “The Elephant in the Living Room” just happens to have each element.
The documentary focuses on two men on opposite sides of the debate over keeping non-native and often lethal animals as pets. Tim Harrison is a cop in Ohio who, in his line of work, has come face-to-face with deadly, exotic animals kept as pets (surprisingly not illegal in most states). Terry Brumfield, on the other hand, has found a reason to live by raising two African lions from when they were cubs. The love they share is equal to that of a man and his dogs.
Fascinating people and hot-button issues. Check.
However, there's something missing from “The Elephant in the Living Room." Michael Webber presents a good documentary, but it's too even-handed for its own good, and simply presents the matter without taking any firm stance. A great documentary would light a fire underneath its viewer. There are moments of that here, but it gets too caught up trying to toy with viewers' emotions with the relationship of Brumfield and his lions.
Whenever the film edges toward a firm stance, it quickly backpedals, trying to give “balance” to an argument that is anything but balanced. It's an admirable attempt by the filmmaker to be fair, in particular presenting Terry as the exception to the rule. But is Terry the exception to the rule? Should we feel sympathetic toward this man who has taken wild animals, turned them into oversized house cats with latent vicious instincts, and put them in a cage?
How many orangutan attacks or deaths by exotic snakes do people need to read about before they come to their senses? That's the question at the core of “The Elephant in the Living Room.” Unfortunately, director Michael Webber only tip-toes around it. In that sense, it feels more like an extended piece of TV news journalism than a true documentary.
Webber presents the facts, which, on many levels, he should be applauded for. But in a case like this, it would be beneficial to the narrative for the filmmaker to interject a little (or even a lot) with his take on the subject. After all, he has put the effort and research into making the film, and should feel comfortable enough to enlighten the audience with the opinions he has formed during that extensive process.
Because of that hesitance, “The Elephant in the Living Room” doesn't get my blood pumping the way “The Cove,” or other similar films have. But there's no denying it will certainly open up debate among audiences. That's worth its weight in gold.
View the trailer below. Thoughts?