ABOUT THE MOVIE
Feature Film – Pre-production
1989, Kenya. A whole herd of elephants is killed for its ivory. Only one calf survives, traumatized. Mike Parker and his rangers’ team catch the poachers red-handed. Among them, a thirteen-year-old boy: John Onyango. A tough kid who is not new to such expeditions.
Mike takes the orphaned calf in his farm in the heart of the bush. John is sentenced to five years in jail for poaching. Unable to bear seeing a kid rotting in jail, Mike’s mother-in-law has John’s sentence commuted to community service.
The freshly arrested young poacher ends up at Mike’s farm. Over time, a deep and unexpected bond builds between the teenager and the elephant calf who would have died of grief without him…
Once upon a time in Africa follows the shared destinies of these three characters. Over thirty years, through three periods: 1989, 1999, and today.
Cinematographer and director Pascal Plisson dropped out of school at the age of 15 to travel the world. In 1997, he moved to East Africa to make wildlife documentaries for National Geographic, the BBC or Canal+. In 2000, he directed Elephant Family: Bonds for Life, a ground-breaking film that travelled the world. Masai: The Rain Warriors, his first feature documentary, was released in 2003.
His second feature documentary brought him public recognition: On the Way to School, which highlights the importance of education and the commitment of these young children, was awarded the César for Best Documentary, topping off a commercial and critical success. Plisson came back in 2015 with Le Grand Jour, before returning to Kenya in 2019 to shoot Gogo, The World’s Oldest Schoolgirl, a feature documentary that follows a 94-year-old schoolgirl in her final year of elementary school. The film is to be released in 2021.
Peres Owino is a Kenyan-American actress, screenwriter and director who made a remarkable debut as a director with the documentary Bound: Africans vs. African Americans, which attempts to bridge the gap between people of African descent. Written, directed, and produced by Peres Owino, Boundhas been selected in many festivals around the world, and won the Women in Film-Lena Sharpe Award at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival, the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2015 Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and the Best Film Directed by a Woman of Color Award at the 2015 African Diaspora Film Festival in New York. The film is still currently screened at festivals and universities, including Harvard and Columbia, and is used as a teaching tool at St. Cloud, Minnesota and the USIU, Kenya. In 2018, Peres came back to directing with the short film Glimpse.
- ORIGINAL IDEA – Pascal Plisson
- DIRECTORS – Pascal Plisson and Peres Owino
- SCRIPT – Pascal Plisson, Yann Brion and Peres Owino
- PRODUCTION – Echo Studio, Elephant Story
In Africa, poaching is a widespread criminal activity whose profitability attracts poachers who do not hesitate to trespass on protected reserves. According to WWF, African elephants are one of the greatest victims of poaching, with around 20,000 to 30,000 animals killed annually for their ivory. At this rate, the African elephant population will be extinct by 2040.
A multitude of other species, whether well-known like rhinos, tigers, or sea turtles, or less newsworthy like pangolins, suffer the same fate.
While poaching is on the decline thanks to new criminal measures implemented in countries like Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe (involved together in a Transboundary Conservation Area), the global demand remains high – and the decline of elephant population has adversely pushed the prices up. This explains the determination of the poachers in this region of the world still plagued by poverty and inequalities in development.