The Elephant in the Living Room (Review)

Compelling documentary looks at the rise of exotic animals as pets

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Dayton filmmaker Michael Webber makes his directorial debut with this compelling, refreshingly restrained documentary about people who possess exotic animals as pets and the various issues that arise in such cases — everything from the ethical dilemma of caging “wild” animals to the increasingly more acute problem of public safety when they escape.

[Read tt stern-enzi's interview with Webber here.]

Webber centers his narrative on a pair of Ohio men who give the issue a deeply personal perspective: Tim Harrison, a Dayton-area police officer and animal rescue expert who wants to do what's best for everyone involved (most prominently the animals), and Terry Brumfield, an endearing guy with health problems who loves his two pet lions as if they were his own children.

Webber interweaves his main twosome with news footage from various recent animal-related incidents across the country and hidden-camera excursions into the troubling world of exotic animal auctions where the planet's deadliest creatures can be purchased as suburban family pets. (While many states don't regulate the issue, Gov. Ted Strickland recently banned the keeping of exotic/wild animals as pets in Ohio.)

Contrary to the growing trend of more tactically driven, formally fussy documentaries, Webber presents the film's core issues from an objective, nonpartisan point of view. Fancy graphics and self-important grandstanding are left on the sidelines, yielding an intimate portrait of two kind-hearted men who ultimately have the same goal in mind. Grade: B

Opens Nov. 5. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.

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