OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Elephant rescues in Thailand are rare, unpredictable and often life threatening.
After waiting over 2 years, actor/director Ashley Bell and a team of elephant rescuers led by world enowned Asian elephant conservationist and TIME Magazine's Hero of Asia, Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, embark on a daring mission to rescue Noi Na, a 70-year old captive, partially blind trekking elephant and bring her 500 miles across Thailand to freedom.
African elephants are slaughtered for their ivory, but sadly the plight of the Asian Elephant has been completely overlooked even though they are the elephant we are most familiar with in zoos, circuses and elephant rides.
LOVE & BANANAS: AN ELEPHANT STORY exposes the cruel secret that every Asian elephant has had to endure to become a service animal; a process known as Pajan, aka The Crush Box.
The heartwarming film aims to ignite a sense of hope, and a new way of thinking about this species, while exposing the plight of Asian elephants and the people who work tirelessly to save them.
Sangdeaun Chailert, Founder of the Save Elephant Foundation, also known as Lek, which means "small" in Thai, was born in Thailand in 1962.
Lek is an award-winning conservationist, who has been working for over two decades to improve the conditions of elephants in Asia and promote their welfare.
Her work has received international acclaim and has been documented by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, CNN, and the BBC, as well as print media around the world.
In 2005, Lek was honored by Time Magazine as the "Hero of Asia" for her work to protect Asian elephants.
In 2010, she was honored by Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton as one of six Woman Heroes of Global Conservation and recently, in 2017, Lek was invited to attend and speak at the "Global Pact for the Environment" Summit at the United Nations, New York, by President Macron of France.
Today, Lek continues to be at the forefront of elephant (and other animal rights causes), raising international awareness and encouraging other countries in the region to follow her lead, as well as helping provide sustainable alternatives to local villages.
She has initiated projects in Thailand, Cambodia, and Myanmar and maintains special relationships with the animals she rescues.
Most days, she can be found at Elephant Nature Park spending time with the rescued herd.
Ashley Bell directed, wrote and produced the feature documentary LOVE & BANANAS: AN ELEPHANT STORY which depicts the rescue of a blind Asian elephant from captivity in Thailand and her journey 500 miles to freedom.
Additionally, Bell serves as a US Ambassador for Cruelty Free International.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Bell is the daughter of actor/voice animator Michael Bell and actress and Groundlings co-founder Victoria Carroll. She studied acting and directing at Cambridge University, where she was awarded "Best Actress" for her portrayal of "Ophelia."
Bell later graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts with honors, and was mentored by Oscar
nominee Kathleen Turner.
In addition to writing, producing and directing, Bell is an actress across film, television and theater, most recognizable for her critically acclaimed role in "The Last Exorcism," for which she earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
John Michael McCarthy is a producer, writer, editor and cinematographer on LOVE AND BANANAS: AN ELEPHANT STORY.
He is co-founder of Change For Balance Productions (CFBP), a production company and creative agency that creates insightful, entertaining media that is dedicated to making a positive impact in our world.
John/CFB are the filmmakers behind Charlize Theron's international HIV and AIDS work and recently completed a short documentary film featuring Charlize Theron, Chelsea Handler, and Trevor Noah which was released online on World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), 2017 and featured on Good Morning America.
In 2011, Change for Balance was nominated for Most Philanthropic Small Business of the Year at The Stay Classy Awards - the largest social impact awards ceremony in the United States.
Roddy Tabatabai is a, director, producer, cinematographer and editor. He is co-founder of Change For Balance Productions (CFBP).
Roddy's/CFB's first documentary, "Equine Destiny," garnered over 20 awards at festivals across North America. Roddy has spent the past 8 years traveling the globe, crafting original documentaries and stories, and creating commercial campaigns for some of the largest companies and organizations in the world.
The documentary is showing at Rialto Cinemas in Berkeley and Roxie Theatre in San Francisco.