Humans and Animals Make Unusual Cinematic Connections

Veteran Thai singer/songwriter and actor Thaneth Warakulnukroh plays an architect who is lifelong friends with an elephant in our September film, “Pop Aye.”

The Sept. 8 Filmworks movie, “Pop Aye” tells the story of a disenchanted architect in a mid-life crisis who re-connects with his childhood elephant.

Our 2017-18 season opener, this feature debut from Singapore-born and NYU-schooled filmmaker Kirsten Tan won the Special Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival this year. It’s a heartwarming road film filled with countless mishaps and odd, colorful characters.

If you think the premise of “Pop Aye” seems far-fetched, it might be a good time to consider a trio of unusual films about humans and animals that Filmworks has shown in the past.

“The Story of the Weeping Camel” (2003)

IMDb synopsis: When a Mongolian nomadic family’s newest camel colt is rejected by its mother, a musician is needed for a ritual to change her mind.

Of note: Screened in October 2004, this documentary from South Mongolia was an early Filmworks fan favorite for its tender peek inside the rituals of indigenous nomads in the Gobi Desert. The Oscar-nominated feature has enjoyed an extended second life as a National Geographic World Films archive selection.

“Duma” (2005)

IMDb synopsis: An orphaned cheetah becomes the best friend and pet of a young boy living in South Africa.

Of note: Screened in May 2006 as part of the Fresno Film Festival, this family drama with an unusual human/animal friendship also marked an unusual friendship of a different kind: It’s one of the few times Filmworks has screened a film from a major distributor (Warner Bros. Pictures). As with Xan and Duma, the link between Filmworks and Warner Bros. wasn’t meant to last.

“Bird People” (2014)

IMDb synopsis: In an airport hotel on the outskirts of Paris, a Silicon Valley engineer abruptly chucks his job, breaks things off with his wife, and holes up in his room. Soon, fate draws him and a young French maid together.

Of note: Screened in December 2014, this delicately directed Pascale Ferran romantic drama takes a confounding turn midway through the picture, plunging the viewer into a surreal fantasy world where human and bird aren’t so different. Young actress Anaïs Demoustier’s performance, in particular, soars.


Jefferson Beavers serves as development director for Fresno Filmworks.