By Apoorva Dixit, The Dartmouth
Published on Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Angry trumpeting reverberated through the air as a three-ton giant charged into a Jeep reinforced with two-inch wide steel rods, leaving the audience in Filene Auditorium quaking. The elephant, who suffered from PTSD in the wake of the Mozambican civil war 20 year prior, was the matriarch of her herd in Gorongosa National Park. The civil war slaughtered 95 percent of the elephant species.
In his Emmy-nominated film, “War Elephants,” executive producer and National Geographic filmmaker David Hamlin ’82 tells the story of conservationist Joyce Poole and her filmmaking brother Bob Poole’s efforts to help the incredibly intelligent elephants heal from their trauma. Without rehabilitating the elephants, the national park cannot run safaris, which would severely cripple the park’s revenue, and thus, restoration.
“This is one story that could and should be told,” Hamlin said.
The high-definition film rendered the lush African savannah gorgeously and allowed the audience to peer into those giant’s knowing, round eyes — making the impact even stronger when we realized that the hole in the elephant’s massive ear was from a gunshot. In contrast to classic nature films, Hamlin also has the Pooles serve, as he puts it, his “onscreen charismatic ambassadors.”
“This film is different than most National Geographic movies,” Lee McDavid, Dickey Center program manager, said. “It has a strong story line and emotional feel.”
The film has many exciting scenes, to the point that Hamlin says the biggest challenge was “not getting killed.”
The film offers more than just a vivid presentation of images and strong characters, however. It delves into the controversy of poaching, revealing devastating images of beautiful creatures caught in poachers’ traps. Hamlin said efforts to stop poaching require stopping consumption. The locals need to stop having such an economic incentive to kill these animals, he said.
Some audience members said they were surprised that the film discussed topics ranging from history to conservation to economics.
“I didn’t really know what I was getting into,” Skye Herrick ’17 said.
The Dickey Center sought to raise awareness.
“This film is a tremendous example of the commons links across history, environmental changes, conservation,” environmental studies professor Ross Virginia said.
As a head of Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, a polar environmental change group, Virginia said the film intends to help students “understand the Arctic through Africa” by exploring those common links.
The Dickey Center is also interested in the crossover between arts and sciences and the process of using storytelling to communicate information.
“I’m a scientist, so I need filmmakers help to get my message across,” Virginia said.
While at the College, Hamlin started as an education major and was involved in the Ledyard Canoe Club. Hamlin was attracted to the world of educational television and filmed a National Geographic special involving the Ledyard whitewater kayaking trip around the South Korean peninsula.
“I recognized television as a cross-nexus where all my passions met — adventure, story-telling, trying to teach something about the world,” Hamlin said.
He eventually found himself working at National Geographic, where he has been for the last 17 years.
Twenty months later, the elephants continue to heal. The Gorongosa National Park is up and running. After all their suffering, the elephants are slowly understanding that their world is finally at peace.
Sponsored by the Dickey Center's Institute of Arctic Studies. For more information about David Hamlin '82 and War Elephants, contact
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