Love the pet, hate the keeper?

The Elephant in the Living Room

on April 01, 2011 by Barbara Goslawski
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Lions and tigers and bearsoh my! Even the requisite venomous snakes chew up the scenery in this film. First time director Michael Webber bravely leads a daring expedition into the tangled subculture of exotic pet keeping. This growing trend in America provides fodder for a unique analysis of that strong bond between people and their pets. It also raises crucial questions about animal rights and the effects of reality based TV programs on people's lifestyles. The Elephant in the Living Room will appeal to a wide crowd, pet lovers and pop culture mavens notwithstanding.

This doc's subject could veer towards the theatrical (or circus-like) but Elephant in the Living Room avoids those exploitive pitfalls. Webber's story-telling strategies remain consistently low-key, as he successfully balances the opposing views of exotic animal experts and specialty pet owners. The result is a lively mix of informative and enlightening storytelling, with a healthy dash of poignancy. Webber is nothing if not thorough in his presentation of all angles, but still finds ways to involve emotional moments like a rescue montage or a touching exchange between pet and owner.

When the opposing sides meet, they try to discern what's best for the animal at hand. Tim Harrison, director of Outreach for Animals and an animal expert, advises owners and authorities on situations that have become dangerous; he provides the film one crucial through-line. Though he can tame an alligator, he's a sympathetic soul who cares most about the well-being of the animal, and he's a staunchly against housing exotic animals as petsuntil he meets Terry Brumfield, an Ohio-based disabled man caring for a family of lions.

Terry and the patriarch, Lambert, have an obvious and mutual bond. Lambert provides the sole source of comfort to Terry, whose depression makes it hard for him to function otherwise. When it becomes clear that Terry cannot care for the entire family, Tim is summoned. Instead of the anticipated stand-off, the two men slowly move through a process of understanding.

A sobering view of the consequences of reality shows that glamorize the ownership of exotic animals, The Elephant in the Living Room is a moving portrait of the people and creatures caught in the middle. These contenders for the title of ‘man's best friend' push the limits of the imagination, and raise the question of rights uniquely. There is no doubt that the bond between pet and owner can be strong, but is it enough? More importantly, what happens to all the animals that grow beyond their cute size into 8-foot-long alligators? Or gargantuan boa constrictors?

Contact: Edify Media, Inc., Elliott Wallach (310) 424-5688 elliottw@edifymedia.com
Director: Michael Webber
Cast: Tim Harrison, Terry Brumfield
Producers: John T. Adkins, Mark Morgan, Michael Webber
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG for thematic material including some disturbing situations, mild language and smoking
Running time: 96 minutes
Release date: April 1 ltd.

 

Tags: Michael Webber, Tim Harrison, Terry Brumfield, John T. Adkins, Mark Morgan
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