On April 4, people around the world rolled up their pant legs in recognition of the International Day for Mine Awareness, a nod to thousands of victims who fall prey annually to buried explosive devices that litter current and former war zones around the world. Thirty-seven nations, including the U.S., have sidestepped this global issue by refusing to sign the Mine Ban Treaty of 1997.
Those lethal leave-behinds are why, for the past five years, Windy Borman has rolled up her sleeves on the production of a new documentary about the lurking scourge.
“When I was at a landmine conference in Laos, I think four children were injured or killed,” Borman tells TakePart. “And I was there for six days.”
Though shocked and sickened by the plight of the kids, Borman’s film The Eyes of Thailand, which recently made its world premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival, concentrates on an absolutely voiceless constituency—elephants—and the heroic efforts of Soraida Salwala.
Salwala is an animal activist in Lampang who was inspired by the sight of a wounded pachyderm by the side of the road when she was eight. As an adult in 1993, she opened a hospital for the huge creatures. Since then, Salwala and her staff have treated more than 3,000 elephants.
WARNING: The video below is graphic and an emotional tripwire.
San Francisco-based filmmaker Borman made the transcontinental trek to Thailand to document the treatment of two elephants in particular, Mosha and Motala. Both animals lost limbs along the Thailand-Myanmar border.
“The elephants get stuck in this corridor. Basically, you’ve got landmines on both sides of the border from old conflicts,” Borman says. “But then Burma’s one of four countries that’s actively using landmines; so you’ve got the government using them against the rebels…. Then you’ve got Thai elephants that may not even know they’re in Burma, walking through, and bam, they step on a landmine.”
Animal activist Soraida Salwala connects with a rescued elephant. (Photo: Courtesy 'The Eyes of Thailand.')
Borman had to burn through every number on her cell phone to raise funding. She made three trips to the region between 2007 and 2010 to witness the leg building process for Mosha and Motala. Once Borman was in country, the real danger of producing The Eyes of Thailand began. A liability release she had to sign before filming the detonation of a live landmine by an Un-exploded Ordinance specialist gave her pause. One line item asked simply: Blood Type ____.
But for the former journalism major who has “always been drawn to stories about women, children and the environment,” the film provided a great period of discovery, even of things she didn’t know about herself.
“I didn’t realize I was going to be an elephant person,” says Borman, who while in Thailand saw two more elephants step on landmines. “But you just get that close to baby Mosha when she would just wobble around on three little legs when she was about two years old. And then Motala, she’s just this large, wise matriarch. They just draw you in, the eyes particularly. That’s why I named the film The Eyes of Thailand.”
Now, Borman is hoping to open the rest of the world’s eyes to what she saw.
Have you ever treated an injured wild animal? Tell you stories in comments.
Based in Los Angeles, California, Stephen Saito writes about the movies. His work has appeared in Premiere, the L.A. Times and IFC.com. He recently founded the indie film site The Moveable Fest. Email Stephen | @mfrushmore