Let's work together.
Documenting the African elephant’s ‘last stand’: Q&A with filmmakers Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson by John C. Cannon for MongaBay
As documentarians working in multiple media, we look to create a film that speaks to the future of humanity. Not merely a wildlife film, “Walking Thunder: Last Stand of the African Elephant”, strives to be a poetic, and intimate documentary, focusing on a remarkable being, the elephant, and to underscore the essential role of “the other,” that which the non-human plays in the mind and spiritual ecology of humankind. A child’s eyes, his wonder, allows us to reconnect with our own childhood awe and respect of the wild while helping to remind of us the legacy we leave to future generations.
We have been photographing and interviewing indigenous, place based people, throughout eastern and southern Africa for more than a decade. Wildlife became an integral part of the work as we came to appreciate how these people survived and thrived in a seemingly inhospitable environment. Expanding on years of documentary photography, still images naturally evolved to moving images as a need to give voice to those who might not otherwise be heard.
Over a span of more than seven years of making this film, the story moves from a place of joy and innocence we first shared in witnessing the elephant with our young son, to one of deep concern, not just for the elephant, but also childhood’s future, and indeed the future of all life on earth.
The goal of the film is not simply to raise awareness of the plight of the elephant but to provoke people to examine how they live in this world and to appreciate its splendor. How do we encourage or stifle our children’s imaginations? How do we teach them to survive in this world – a world of societies and civilizations as well as a natural world larger than we imagine.
By creating an opportunity for other people, other families, to travel with us to these far off places, this film should lead people to recognize the beauty, importance and value of their own immediate worlds. We hope this film will play an essential role in demonstrating that neither the earth nor humanity can afford to lose a being such as the elephant, so vital to the ecology and spirit of the planet. The elephant’s future is nothing less than humanity’s fate.
—Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson
CYRIL CHRISTO AND MARIE WILKINSON (Directors & Producers) have been working together as a husband and wife team since 1997, when they began investigating and documenting the relationship between the indigenous human and natural world on five continents.
Their concerns about global warming, globalization and the future of life on earth started in 1996 on their first trip together abroad to Angel Falls in Venezuela. Cyril’s and Marie’s first book of photography in black and white – Lost Africa: The Eyes of Origin (Assouline 2004) explores the ecological and man-made challenges facing tribes from Ethiopia to Namibia.
Their second project, a testament to the African elephant, is published as Walking Thunder: In the Footsteps of the African Elephant (Merrell 2009). Walking Thunder was honored by the International Photography Awards in the category of Best Nature Photography Book. Now, with their son Lysander, who has been with them on several trips to the Arctic and to East Africa, Cyril and Marie are working on a dedication to three endangered bioregions – the Arctic, the African savannah and the forests of India, and their iconic predators.
The project, called In Predatory Light, was published by Merrell Publishers in October 2013. In film, Cyril produced the 1987 Academy Award nominated feature documentary, A Stitch For Time, directed by Nigel Noble.
CYRIL & MARIE
Marie is a graduate of Yale College and Yale School of Architecture; Cyril attended Cornell University and is a graduate of Columbia College. They live in Santa Fe, New Mexico and spend part of the year in Amagansett, New York.
The filmmakers have also been publishing articles on their work in conservation for over 15 years. They have written for such publications as, Terra Nova (2000), North Atlantic Review (2002-03), The Sun News (contributors 2007-08), The Ecologist (London, 2011), CNN International (2011), National Geographic News Watch (2013), and Izilwane (2012-14).
• Walking Thunder: In the Footsteps of the African Elephant. London: Merrell 2009
• In Predatory Light: Lions, Tigers, and Polar Bears. London: Merrell 2013. Named one of the 10 Best Nature Photography Books of the year by Amazon’s editors.
• Lost Africa: The Eyes of Origin. New York & Paris: Assouline Publishing 2004. Runner up for Lucie Awards. 2,500 copies in English and 2,500 copies in French.
PUBLICATIONS ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
Because of their continued and wide ranging involvement with communities across the United States and internationally, Cyril and Marie have also been written about extensively, in such publications as, The New York Times, THE Magazine, The Times Sunday Magazine (London), The Ecologist (London), Vanity Fair, The Photo Review, L’Oeil de la Photographie (Paris), and Epoch Times.
Cyril and Marie have shared their work with communities and organizations by lecturing across the United States, from the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, to WildEarth Guardians, Annenberg Space For Photography, the United Nations, the Telluride Mountain Film Festival and many other venues.
Cyril produced the 1987 Academy Award nominated feature documentary, A Stitch For Time, directed by Nigel Noble.
Cyril and Marie have exhibited their photographic work in group and solo exhibitions in galleries across the United States. Their most recent exhibition was for the UN Climate Change Legacy Exhibition at COP21–PARIS in 2015 titled,“Addressing Climate Change Legacy.” The show was curated by the Lucie Foundation and was an exhibition that “called upon renowned photographers who have dedicated their lives to documenting melting icebergs, drought, air, water, waste pollution and the undeniable effects these things have had on our planet.”
2015 Addressing Climate Change Legacy, Paris
2013 Keaton Gallery, Hopkins School, CT
2012 Center for Contemporary Art, NM
2010 Stonybook/Southampton, NY
2005 Linda Durham Contemporary Arts, NM
2005 East End Books, NY
2004 Galerie Rimonim, NY
2004 Salon Prive, NM
2003 James Heart Photography Studio, NM
2002 United World College, NM
2002 Biophillia, State Capitol Roundhouse, NM
1999 Water, Sag Harbor Picture Gallery, NY