She may be known predominantly for her iconic role as Charlotte York in Sex and the City, but Kristin Davis is far from a Park Avenue princess. In 2013, with no filmmaking experience, she threw herself into Executive Producing her first documentary, Gardeners of Eden, highlighting the danger of imminent elephant extinction. Made in conjunction with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, directed by Austin Peck and Annaliese Vandenberg and shown on Participant Media’s television network Pivot, Davis’ documentary takes us deep into the ivory trade, which is still prevalent in the US. Having worked with The David Sheldrick Trust since 2009, Davis’ film was made with a three-person team and sheer determination, as she says, “post-production is very, very hard for an actress who never does post-production, so it was definitely a learning curve.”
How did you come to be making a film about elephant conservation?
I’ve been working with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust since 2009. That was when the poaching crisis was just beginning, but no one really knew about it and then it kept escalating and escalating. I’ve been just trying every which way since probably 2011 to try to talk about it, and it’s been really hard to get anyone to focus on it or talk about it. Now people are much more aware of it, but when it was really at the height in 2011 people weren’t, so I hired these two young filmmakers in to go down and make a short called Wild that we keep up on the homepage of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. When they got back from their trip they just begging me, “please, let’s make a documentary,” and I said, okay. We didn’t have anything that you would normally have in terms of structure. But we had passion and commitment.
Why were you attracted to working with elephants in particular?
I’ve loved elephants forever, I don’t know why. When I first went on my first safari I told my guide that I just wanted to watch elephants all day and he thought that was really funny because most people want to watch lions. For me what makes them so special and different is that they have these very elaborate emotional family connections and relationships very much like humans. The fact that elephants are now in danger of being poached into extinction, it’s just something I feel is really beyond comprehension.
So not being a filmmaker at all, how did you get it made?
There were three people involved! It’s so hysterical. When I was doing the Oscar submissions, everyone just kept emailing me back saying, “but where’s the full crew list?” I’m like, “that is the full crew list.” It’s so crazy what Austin (Peck) and Anneliese (Vandenberg) were able to do by themselves. Austin edits and they both produce. They would stay in like a tiny little tent out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a really well-produced movie because we all just have the same passion and the same desires. But I’ll tell you when the hard part came – Austin lives in Kenya and Anneliese has moved to Peru and I’m here in America trying to do post-production by myself. I learned a lot in terms of things that I just never knew going in, like in terms of music rights. Luckily this amazing man, Jack Douglas, just appeared and said, “I’m going to score your film” and I was like, “oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” I mean, it was a little frightening at one point. I was like we have this beautiful film, but I don’t know how to make it legal.
This was a bold move since you’ve never produced before.
You just have to step forward and try stuff, that’s what I think the world is about right now. If you see something that you want to fight for, you have to fight for it, and for me, I would do anything for the elephants. We all know the power that film has in terms of telling a story and showing people what’s actually happening. It has much more emotional impact to show it, but in general this is my business so it wasn’t that bold. I think the people who are really brave are the ones who are out there risking their lives every day to protect the elephants.
What kind of feedback have you been getting?
It’s been amazing. It’s been so great. It’s been better than I ever could’ve imagined. We got to show it at the State Department which was really amazing. I think we’re going to do a Hill screening in DC because right now we’re trying to get the state-by-state ivory bans. Everywhere I go, everyone is always just shocked that number one, we could lose elephants and number two, that America is the second-biggest ivory marketplace in the world. No one knows this. We haven’t stopped our ivory trade. It’s still happening. It’s bad. We got a positive review from The New York Times which is just amazing and the LA Times. I never really even pictured us doing that kind of thing. I just wanted to make a film that I could even just put on YouTube. We were literally going to make the film and just show it to our donors, that’s how small-minded we were in a way. Then the film was finished and it looked so great. I was like, wow, I need to aim higher.
How did you come to Pivot?
I came to Pivot because of what Participant has done as a company in terms of their social action campaigns. I wanted us to have it go to younger people, which is Pivot’s kind of target audience. I wanted there to be a little bit more support and that’s definitely what we got. I mean, we would never have been able to take the film to the State Department without Participant, they’re so connected in such interesting, really meaningful ways. They’re so supportive and wonderful.
What would it mean to you to see the film be recognized this awards season?
It would be beyond. These issues are so big. Like Virunga. That was so inspiring and if they didn’t win, it’s just to be talked about enough so that people are aware. Even that we’re in the race at all or trying at all is just so amazing. Even if we don’t get nominated I feel like it’s been so amazing, but if we could get nominated I would just be over the moon.