Photos courtesy of “The Eyes of Thailand”

The world premiere of the documentary “The Eyes of Thailand” at the Newport Beach Film Festival on Saturday night was charged with energy and emotion. Director/producer Windy Borman, producer Tim VandeSteeg, along with many members of the film and production crew joined the packed theater.

“The Eyes of Thailand” is a brilliant weaving of many threads. At the center is Soraida Salwala, a Thai woman who chose to ignore naysayers and pursued her dream of opening an elephant hospital in Thailand, Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE), the first of its kind.

When an elephant arrived with half of her leg blown off from stepping on a landmine, Soraida led a team of people who became dedicated to saving the elephant’s life and seeing her walk again. A second elephant, a baby, who had also lost part of her leg in a landmine explosion, was saved by being brought to FAE. Through determination, ingenuity, love, as well as trial and error, the dedicated team was able to make the elephants prosthetic legs, a project which took years.

Borman did a brilliant job of giving equal attention to the enormity and the delicacies of this story. The anguish and hope of one woman’s fight for the elephants she has dedicated her life to, as well as well as the history of landmines and their continued use today through interviews with victims, family members, experts and activists.

The full spectrum of humanity is wrestled with throughout the film. The role we play in death and carnage, set against the intrinsic desire to love and heal. Animation by Tahnee Geahm is seamlessly infused at various points, providing a visually pleasing back story where footage was unavailable.

“The Eyes of Thailand” is both tragic and triumphant, tied up with a message of hope that the best will prevail.

Don’t miss the encore performance tonight, Tuesday May 1, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. Triangle Square. Click here to purchase tickets.

Read below some fascinating details of the making of “The Eyes of Thailand” Q &A with filmmaker Windy Borman.

Q: Windy, will you briefly describe the path that led you to the making of this film? I know you answered that question last night, but, I wasn’t writing anything down and want to get it right.

A: In 2007, I was following a theatre company in Thailand for two months to film their behind-the-scenes promotional video. One day, they visited FAE’s Elephant Hospital and Soraida Salwala surprised us, spoke to me on camera for two hours, and then invited us to meet Motala and Baby Mosha, two elephant landmine survivors.

At that point, they had saved their lives, but they didn’t know if they could help them walk again. I knew I’d stumbled onto a story that I couldn’t leave, so Soraida and I stayed in touch, and in 2009, I flew back to Thailand to film the prosthesis building process. It was a very uncertain undertaking. There had never been an elephant prosthesis, so the Prostheses Foundation didn’t know whether it would be strong enough to hold their weight, and Soraida and Dr. Preecha (FAE’s head veterinarian) didn’t know whether the elephants would accept it or not.

In the end, the elephants both accepted their artificial legs and I left in August 2009, thinking I had a happy ending to the story. Then in 2010, two new elephants stepped on landmines, so I went back to film an epilogue that featured the new victims. That also gave me an opportunity to travel to Vientiane, Laos to interview landmine experts who were attending the first Cluster Munitions Convention. That really filled out the landmine side of the story and created a stronger call-to-action for the film.

Q: How did you and Pco-producer, Tim VandeSteeg decide to work together?

After we shot the leg-building footage in 2009, I knew we had a strong “quest” story arc, so it was a matter of gathering archival footage and organizing the video footage in a way that best told that story.

A:Tim VandeSteeg and I had connected via social media and some online documentary groups in 2009. After talking about the story and where I wanted to take the film, Tim VandeSteeg came on board as a Producer. He introduced me to Screenwriter Tim O’Brien, Composer Steve Horner and Associate Producer Jessica DeLine. After years of pushing forward on my own, it was great to have a team assembled to help tell this amazing story of sacrifice and perseverance.

Q: Where do you go from here with “The Eyes of Thailand”? Wwhat are your goals for the film and beyond?

A:“The Eyes of Thailand” will screen at the International Wildlife Film Festival on May 8, 2012 in Missoula, MT. We’re hoping to announce other film festival screenings very soon through our Newsletter, Facebook page and Twitter account, which you can find via

Our larger distribution plans include doing film festivals for a few months and then rolling into theatrical, TV, DVD, VOD, online/streaming, and international platforms, as well as having educational and benefit screenings.

In the grand scheme, I hope people leave “The Eyes of Thailand” wanting to protect Asian Elephants and encourage their governments to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. On a personal level, I hope they reflect on the things they’ve been told are “impossible”. Ten years ago it was “impossible” to think that an elephant could survive a landmine accident. Soraida proved that not only was it was possible, but given the right team and technology, they could build the world’s first elephant-sized prostheses to help them walk again. That kind of dedication sort of makes you reconsider the obstacles in your own life.

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