World premiere for Tyke Elephant Outlaw at Sarasota Film Festival

Tyke Elephant Outlaw, the Australian feature documentary film, will have its world premiere next month at the Sarasota Film Festival in Florida, one of the largest regional film festivals in the US.

It's directed and produced by leading Australian documentary filmmakers Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore, and co-produced by Megan McMurchy.

The film tells the gripping and emotionally charged story of Tyke, a circus elephant who went on a rampage in Honolulu in 1994, killed her trainer in front of thousands of spectators and died in a hail of gunfire. Her break for freedom – filmed from start to tragic end – traumatised a city, and ignited a global battle over the use of animals in the entertainment industry.

Tyke is the central protagonist in this tragic but redemptive drama that combines trauma, outrage, insight and compassion. “We did not set out to make an animal rights film”, says Susan Lambert. “Instead, we wanted to explore the deeper and more intimate relationship that exists between animals and people and why some animals are kept in captivity for our entertainment.” Like in the classic animal rebellion film King Kong, the filmmakers came to see Tyke as an outlaw who could no longer endure her life in the circus.

Importantly for the filmmakers, the Sarasota Film Festival takes place in the very heart of the US circus industry. The Sarasota area is the winter headquarters for many of America’s largest circuses including the Walker Bros Circus that is featured in the film and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus that boasts of being “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

The film includes astonishing archive of Tyke’s rampage inside the circus arena and outside on the streets of Honolulu, as well as extraordinary footage of Tyke’s life in the circus. Tyke’s story is told from the strikingly contrasting perspectives of those who knew her and were affected by her death – former trainers and handlers, circus industry insiders, witnesses to her rampage, and animal rights activists for whom Tyke became a global rallying cry.

“Each of them related to what happened to Tyke in different ways, yet each has a profound and abiding connection to her,” says Stefan Moore. “20 years after the harrowing events in Honolulu, Tyke’s legacy lives on in the global battle over the use of performing animals in captivity.”

The award-winning creative team included cinematographer Simon Smith, editor Denise Haslem and composer Antony Partos.

Tyke Elephant Outlaw was produced with the financial assistance of Screen Australia and Screen NSW. ABC Commercial is handling sales and distribution.