Truly wild Elephants are still all around Arugam

Green Media is planning a documentary about the human/ nature conflict. The perhaps largest herds of wild elephants are found in Lahugala, which is just 30 Minutes from the Surf Paradise of ArugamBay

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About this project

Common Ground is an independent documentary collaboration with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society.The film explores the plight of the Asian elephant and draws the connection between the lives

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of a family of elephants and the lives of rural farmers. We discover some amazing similarities between the two groups and we also find out about some of the innovative conservation projects happening on the ground; solar powered electric fences, elephant alert systems, habitat enrichment programs, programs teaching habituated elephants how to paint, and even projects that are making novelty paper out of elephant poo. By exploring what is being done to conserve elephants and enrich the lives of rural farmers, the film will raise awareness and spark new ideas about wildlife conservation all around the world. What began as a smaller educational project for the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society has turned into a much larger project, and we’re hoping to find a wider distribution platform than we had originally planned for. To do that, we need just a little push. Principal photography has been completed, and as we step into post-production, we realize that there are a few holes in the story that we want to tell. The funding we are currently requesting will allow for a skeleton crew to return to Sri Lanka to capture the remaining pieces and bring the story to completion. This will include a helicopter shoot which has funds already secured and will be the first aerial footage of natural sites in Sri Lanka in high definition. This funding will also help us secure matching funds from grant institutions to aid in post-production and securing a great soundtrack. 50% of any profits generated through distribution of the film will go back into the SLWCS and into ongoing conservation projects. More information about the film can be found at http://www.greenermedia.com/hec.html and more information about SLWCS can be found at http://www.slwcs.org Further background here:

Endangered elephant is subject of new film
Thursday, December 24, 2009

BY MAGGIE FAZELI FARD
Pascack Valley Community Life
FOR COMMUNITY LIFE

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There’s nothing inconspicuous about a charging 10,000-pound Asian elephant, but for three uninitiated Pascack Valley natives, the range of sounds that suddenly ripped through Sri Lanka’s Lahugala forest on a warm evening last September was, to say the least, surprising. Shaking trees and snapping branches heralded the charge of a young male seeking to intimidate Phil Buccellato, a documentary filmmaker who grew up in Hillsdale, and his crew members, Jon Schmid and Charlie Tighe of River Vale. Sixteen days into their trek through Sri Lanka, a small island nation off the southeastern coast of India, this wasn’t the trio’s first elephant sighting, nor their first time witnessing a charge. But despite the safe cover provided by an old Land Rover truck and the company of an experienced guide, Samantha, the trio couldn’t help “hoping that the protection bracelets the Buddhist monk tied to our wrists would actually work.” The pugnacious pachyderm tossed six-foot long logs into the air and beat the ground with tree branches; Buccellato and his crew members later blogged that they left the scene of the charge “on an adrenaline high.” If the elephant did succeed in intimidating the filmmakers, he also succeeded in leaving his audience in awe, giving them a firsthand glimpse at paradoxical relationship between humans and elephants, the subject of Buccellato’s documentary, “Common Ground.” Buccellato, 27, didn’t grow up planning to stalk elephants in Sri Lanka. The Pascack Valley High School graduate attended a Baltimore art school for two years before transferring to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, graduating from the esteemed film program in 2005. While still at Tisch, he started a production company with a couple of friends from school and began taking freelance gigs on the side. Since its inception, Buccellato’s company, dubbed Greener Media for its environmentally conscious productions, has produced two feature-length documentaries as well as Web videos, advertisements and public service announcements. Buccellato, who now lives in Brooklyn, where Greener Media is based, has also worked as an art director and designer for music videos, commercials and feature films. “Like a lot of people, I wanted to do everything,” says Buccellato of the variety of production work he and his Greener Media colleagues have done. “We were just eager to get as much work as possible.” Buccellato’s focus on doing as much as possible shifted about two years ago, when he read an article about a phenomenon called the “human-elephant conflict” in Sri Lanka. For thousands of years, Asian elephants have enjoyed a godlike status among Buddhists and Hindus alike; folklore teaches that they are cousins of the clouds, even able to create lightning. And for as long as they have been worshipped, the elephants have been used for their strength a?? transporting everything from timber to monks, monarchs and tourists a?? and hunted for their ivory tusks. Human progress meant a loss of wild elephant habitats to agricultural development, and a 26-year civil war transformed protected game reserves into hiding places and training grounds for rebels and Sri Lankan soldiers alike. While authorities declared a final victory in their lengthy ethnic conflict against the Tamil Tigers on May 18, mines and other war relics continue to pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s elephants. It is estimated that at the turn of the 19th century, Sri Lanka boasted as many as 14,000 Asian elephants. Today, Sri Lanka a?? about the size of West Virginia with a human population of more than 21 million – has less than 3,000 elephants left. The article that Buccellato came across two years ago reported the newest development in the human-elephant conflict. Sri Lankan authorities had started providing guns to rural farmers so that they could protect themselves against rebels during the civil war. However, the farmers turned their new weapons on what they saw as a more immediate threat: midnight raids by voracious elephants who lost their foraging grounds to the creation of these very farms. One single, hungry elephant can eat more than 400 pounds of food in one day, equal to what the average American eats in three months. Herbivores, the elephants are willing to eat almost any fruit or vegetable, from acacia tree leaves to wild mangoes, and the crops of Sri Lankan farmers are no exception. A herd of elephants could easily wipe out an entire harvest in one night. The elephants had to eat, but so did the farmers. “The farmers weren’t stupid,” Buccellato says simply. “It’s kind of a topic that people who live in the [United] States haven’t heard of,” he continues. The details of human-elephant conflict may be obscure, but the themes of overpopulation and overdevelopment a?? and the associated impact on nature a?? seemed universal. His interest piqued, Buccellato reached out to Ravi Corea, the president of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. After more than a year of conversations and research, Buccellato knew he wanted to direct a documentary about the people and animals at the heart of the conservation effort, which includes projects like solar-powered electric fences, elephant alert systems, habitat enrichment projects, and even novelty paper made from elephant dung. In September, with support from Corea and the conservation society, Buccellato set out for Sri Lanka with his crew members, fellow Pascack Valley High School graduates Jon Schmid and Charlie Tighe. Over the course of the three-week shoot, the men visited elephant orphanages, where baby elephants who have lost their mothers to poachers or war accidents are cared for. “The most memorable orphan was a teenager who had lost the bottom of his right front leg to a land mine,” Buccellato, Schmid and Tighe blogged on the Greener Media Web site after visiting the Pinnawela orphanage in central Sri Lanka. “[Watching] this massive animal hobble around on three legs was heart wrenching. It is unclear how long it can go on living like that; the good front leg is now bowed out from supporting so much weight and its back is twisted from being out of balance.” As with all conflicts, this one isn’t one-sided. Two days after visiting Pinnewela, they traveled to Puttalam in the north west region, where “both the poor farmers and the land are trapped in this vicious cycle of retreat and poverty,” they blogged. They met a farmer who was trampled by an elephant while biking home late one night and survived, and a man whose wife was killed by a “rogue” elephant. They met a mother of two whose mud house was partially destroyed by a hungry elephant and a man who helped an elephant out of a well only to be trampled by the frightened animal once it was freed. “Then the man who was shot in the legs, bones shattered, by a trap gun after fleeing from a charging elephant,” they wrote. “The list goes on and on.” “We really don’t have anything like it here,” says Buccellato. “But this is really an example of what’s happening everywhere in the world a?? elephants in Sri Lanka, tigers in India, gorillas in Africa. With most people, it’s hard to get them to pay attention.” Buccellato hopes that “Common Ground,” his directorial debut, will get people to pay attention. To that end, he is trying to raise funds for a second shoot in Sri Lanka in 2010 to “fill a few holes” in the story. In addition to a helicopter shoot that would provide the first high definition aerial footage of Sri Lanka, Buccellato hopes to capture what he calls the “positive” side of the story. In September, says Buccellato, “we were focusing on a lot of the negative aspects, but a big part of the story is the positive relationship Sri Lankans had with elephants for thousands of years.” Buccellato is still trying to decide when to return to Sri Lanka; he wants to wrap shooting as soon as possible, but part of him wants to wait until July for a Buddhist ceremony called the Festival of the Tooth. Elephants play an integral part of this ancient festival, during which a relic purported to be one of Buddha’s teeth is paraded through town. But none of this will be possible without an additional $10,000 to cover travel expenses for himself and a small crew, and to make them eligible to obtain matching funds from grant foundations. Using the online fundraising Web site called Kickstarter, Buccellato has until March 7, 2010 to raise his money. If he hasn’t raised the full $10,000 by then, he won’t receive any of the money pledged. As of Dec. 21, 34 investors had already contributed a total of $3,145. Anyone can contribute with a minimum pledge of $5. “This is very low-budget,” says Buccellato. “But I’m passionate about bringing it to completion. Please donate to the cause,” he adds with a laugh. When “Common Ground” is completed a?? a hopeful Buccellato always says “when,” not “if” in reference to the completion his project a?? 50 percent of any profits generated through its distribution will be donated to the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society to aid in resolving the human-elephant conflict and to develop sustainable land uses for farmers. “With all documentaries there is a hope,” says Buccellato. “A good documentary will tell a story that people haven’t heard and compel people to donate to the cause.” To view a trailer for “Common Ground” by Phil Buccellato and contribute funds to the documentary, visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/greenermedia/asian-elephant-conservation-documentary. For more information about Greener Media, visit www.greenermedia.com, call 888-912-7326 or e-mail phil@greenermedia.com.
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There’s nothing inconspicuous about a charging 10,000-pound Asian elephant, but for three uninitiated Pascack Valley natives, the range of sounds that suddenly ripped through Sri Lanka’s Lahugala forest on a warm evening last September was, to say the least, surprising. Shaking trees and snapping branches heralded the charge of a young male seeking to intimidate Phil Buccellato, a documentary filmmaker who grew up in Hillsdale, and his crew members, Jon Schmid and Charlie Tighe of River Vale.

Phil Buccellato films a wild elephant in Minneriya National Park. Buccellato, a documentary filmmaker who grew up in Hillsdale, traveled to Sri Lanka to film a documentary on the human-elephant conflict there.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF PHIL BUCCELLATO
Phil Buccellato films a wild elephant in Minneriya National Park. Buccellato, a documentary filmmaker who grew up in Hillsdale, traveled to Sri Lanka to film a documentary on the human-elephant conflict there.

Sixteen days into their trek through Sri Lanka, a small island nation off the southeastern coast of India, this wasn’t the trio’s first elephant sighting, nor their first time witnessing a charge. But despite the safe cover provided by an old Land Rover truck and the company of an experienced guide, Samantha, the trio couldn’t help “hoping that the protection bracelets the Buddhist monk tied to our wrists would actually work.” The pugnacious pachyderm tossed six-foot long logs into the air and beat the ground with tree branches; Buccellato and his crew members later blogged that they left the scene of the charge “on an adrenaline high.” If the elephant did succeed in intimidating the filmmakers, he also succeeded in leaving his audience in awe, giving them a firsthand glimpse at paradoxical relationship between humans and elephants, the subject of Buccellato’s documentary, “Common Ground.” Buccellato, 27, didn’t grow up planning to stalk elephants in Sri Lanka. The Pascack Valley High School graduate attended a Baltimore art school for two years before transferring to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, graduating from the esteemed film program in 2005. While still at Tisch, he started a production company with a couple of friends from school and began taking freelance gigs on the side. Since its inception, Buccellato’s company, dubbed Greener Media for its environmentally conscious productions, has produced two feature-length documentaries as well as Web videos, advertisements and public service announcements. Buccellato, who now lives in Brooklyn, where Greener Media is based, has also worked as an art director and designer for music videos, commercials and feature films. “Like a lot of people, I wanted to do everything,” says Buccellato of the variety of production work he and his Greener Media colleagues have done. “We were just eager to get as much work as possible.”

Hillsdale native and documentary filmmaker Phil Buccellato grew up in Hillsdale and graduated from Pascack Valley High School.

Hillsdale native and documentary filmmaker Phil Buccellato grew up in Hillsdale and graduated from Pascack Valley High School.

Buccellato’s focus on doing as much as possible shifted about two years ago, when he read an article about a phenomenon called the “human-elephant conflict” in Sri Lanka. For thousands of years, Asian elephants have enjoyed a godlike status among Buddhists and Hindus alike; folklore teaches that they are cousins of the clouds, even able to create lightning. And for as long as they have been worshipped, the elephants have been used for their strength a?? transporting everything from timber to monks, monarchs and tourists a?? and hunted for their ivory tusks. Human progress meant a loss of wild elephant habitats to agricultural development, and a 26-year civil war transformed protected game reserves into hiding places and training grounds for rebels and Sri Lankan soldiers alike. While authorities declared a final victory in their lengthy ethnic conflict against the Tamil Tigers on May 18, mines and other war relics continue to pose a threat to Sri Lanka’s elephants. It is estimated that at the turn of the 19th century, Sri Lanka boasted as many as 14,000 Asian elephants. Today, Sri Lanka a?? about the size of West Virginia with a human population of more than 21 million – has less than 3,000 elephants left. The article that Buccellato came across two years ago reported the newest development in the human-elephant conflict. Sri Lankan authorities had started providing guns to rural farmers so that they could protect themselves against rebels during the civil war. However, the farmers turned their new weapons on what they saw as a more immediate threat: midnight raids by voracious elephants who lost their foraging grounds to the creation of these very farms. One single, hungry elephant can eat more than 400 pounds of food in one day, equal to what the average American eats in three months. Herbivores, the elephants are willing to eat almost any fruit or vegetable, from acacia tree leaves to wild mangoes, and the crops of Sri Lankan farmers are no exception. A herd of elephants could easily wipe out an entire harvest in one night. The elephants had to eat, but so did the farmers. “The farmers weren’t stupid,” Buccellato says simply. “It’s kind of a topic that people who live in the [United] States haven’t heard of,” he continues. The details of human-elephant conflict may be obscure, but the themes of overpopulation and overdevelopment a?? and the associated impact on nature a?? seemed universal. His interest piqued, Buccellato reached out to Ravi Corea, the president of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. After more than a year of conversations and research, Buccellato knew he wanted to direct a documentary about the people and animals at the heart of the conservation effort, which includes projects like solar-powered electric fences, elephant alert systems, habitat enrichment projects, and even novelty paper made from elephant dung. In September, with support from Corea and the conservation society, Buccellato set out for Sri Lanka with his crew members, fellow Pascack Valley High School graduates Jon Schmid and Charlie Tighe. Over the course of the three-week shoot, the men visited elephant orphanages, where baby elephants who have lost their mothers to poachers or war accidents are cared for. “The most memorable orphan was a teenager who had lost the bottom of his right front leg to a land mine,” Buccellato, Schmid and Tighe blogged on the Greener Media Web site after visiting the Pinnawela orphanage in central Sri Lanka. “[Watching] this massive animal hobble around on three legs was heart wrenching. It is unclear how long it can go on living like that; the good front leg is now bowed out from supporting so much weight and its back is twisted from being out of balance.” As with all conflicts, this one isn’t one-sided. Two days after visiting Pinnewela, they traveled to Puttalam in the north west region, where “both the poor farmers and the land are trapped in this vicious cycle of retreat and poverty,” they blogged. They met a farmer who was trampled by an elephant while biking home late one night and survived, and a man whose wife was killed by a “rogue” elephant. They met a mother of two whose mud house was partially destroyed by a hungry elephant and a man who helped an elephant out of a well only to be trampled by the frightened animal once it was freed. “Then the man who was shot in the legs, bones shattered, by a trap gun after fleeing from a charging elephant,” they wrote. “The list goes on and on.” “We really don’t have anything like it here,” says Buccellato. “But this is really an example of what’s happening everywhere in the world a?? elephants in Sri Lanka, tigers in India, gorillas in Africa. With most people, it’s hard to get them to pay attention.” Buccellato hopes that “Common Ground,” his directorial debut, will get people to pay attention. To that end, he is trying to raise funds for a second shoot in Sri Lanka in 2010 to “fill a few holes” in the story. In addition to a helicopter shoot that would provide the first high definition aerial footage of Sri Lanka, Buccellato hopes to capture what he calls the “positive” side of the story. In September, says Buccellato, “we were focusing on a lot of the negative aspects, but a big part of the story is the positive relationship Sri Lankans had with elephants for thousands of years.” Buccellato is still trying to decide when to return to Sri Lanka; he wants to wrap shooting as soon as possible, but part of him wants to wait until July for a Buddhist ceremony called the Festival of the Tooth. Elephants play an integral part of this ancient festival, during which a relic purported to be one of Buddha’s teeth is paraded through town. But none of this will be possible without an additional $10,000 to cover travel expenses for himself and a small crew, and to make them eligible to obtain matching funds from grant foundations. Using the online fundraising Web site called Kickstarter, Buccellato has until March 7, 2010 to raise his money. If he hasn’t raised the full $10,000 by then, he won’t receive any of the money pledged. As of Dec. 21, 34 investors had already contributed a total of $3,145. Anyone can contribute with a minimum pledge of $5. “This is very low-budget,” says Buccellato. “But I’m passionate about bringing it to completion. Please donate to the cause,” he adds with a laugh. When “Common Ground” is completed a?? a hopeful Buccellato always says “when,” not “if” in reference to the completion his project a?? 50 percent of any profits generated through its distribution will be donated to the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society to aid in resolving the human-elephant conflict and to develop sustainable land uses for farmers.

2 Responses to “Truly wild Elephants are still all around Arugam”


  • Hello, its good piece of writing concerning media print, we all be familiar with media is a enormous source of facts.

  • Open letter from Ravi:
    Dear Friend,

    I’m writing to bring to your attention a remarkable project that we are working on in collaboration with a documentary film company, Greenermedia about the Asian elephant. We are producing a film, Common Ground which portrays the daily struggle for survival of a family herd of elephants and a poor rural farmer’s family in Sri Lanka. The elephant and the people of Sri Lanka have shared a cultural bond and relationship that is over 5,000 years old. Today this relationship is in danger of disintegrating mainly due to the loss of elephant habitat that is creating intense conflicts between people (mostly rural subsistence farmers) and elephants. What is incredible to see are the similarities between people and elephants—especially how they take care of their families as they go about trying to survive in a rapidly changing world. For conservation biologists these are challenging times—where we need to develop innovative strategies to balance the needs of people and their aspirations while at the same time attempting connserve one of the most endangered mega-herbivores of the world. Today the Asian elephant is not just a living symbol of the cultures of Asia but it is also very much ingrained in the socio-cultural values of the people in the west and northern hemisphere. Therefore the loss of the Asian elephant will not be just a huge loss for the people of Asia but to the entire world.

    I invite you view the video and extend your hand in support to save one of the most charismatic animals with whom we share this world today. If you would also share this with others who may be interested, we would appreciate it very much.

    Thank you for your kind consideration and support,

    All the very best,

    Ravi Corea

    President

    Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society

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