Documentaries like Tyke Elephant Outlaw are finding new life after they leave the cinemas and film festivals thanks to streaming platforms. By Caris Bizzaca.
Tyke Elephant Outlaw has been referred to as ‘Blackfish for elephants’ for a reason.
The Australian documentary tells the gripping story of Tyke, a circus elephant that was gunned down in Honolulu in 1994 after killing its trainer and fleeing onto the streets.
Similar to what Blackfish did for the plight of orcas in the entertainment industry, Tyke Elephant Outlaw has been making major waves internationally since its release – even helping change laws in Hawaii.
Co-director Stefan Moore says their screening of Tyke Elephant Outlaw in Hawaii serendipitously was held just before the Board of Agriculture was making a decision on a proposal to ban wild performing animals from being imported into Hawaii.
“The film as a result got a huge amount of attention, a huge amount of press in Hawaii. Legislatives came to the screening and two days after they held the vote,” he says.
“There were activists and animal welfare groups working on this legislation for a couple of years leading up to that, but the film did, in the opinion of many, make some small contribution of moving it along.”
Those waves are only set to continue, with Tyke Elephant Outlaw recently being bought by Netflix. It has already released in the US and Australia and will release internationally in August 2016.
The potential eyeballs able to see Tyke Elephant Outlaw now is huge.
“Netflix has over 60 million subscribers worldwide now and 30 million in the US alone so for us that is a major coup. It’s really big and it’s thrilling to have it out to that many people,” Moore says.
His co-director and partner Susan Lambert adds that it’s fantastic for an Australian production to have that kind of platform.
“We’re very proud of it and it does mean the film will be seen be as many people as possible and the message will spread,” she says. “They love the film and they’ll do right by it. We’re feeling that’s really it’s in its proper place.”
Tyke Elephant Outlaw has also screened on BBC Four’s Storyville and CBC Canada’s The Passionate Eye and is also set to release in Denmark.
But its release on Netflix also raises an interesting point about the ongoing life of documentaries on streaming platforms.
Similarly, since Sam Klemke’s Time Machine screened at festivals including Sundance and Hot Docs, and had a limited cinema release in Australia, it’s now available to watch on Vimeo. It means people who missed out on the chance to see documentaries in cinema or on TV, now have an added extra opportunity.
“It’s exciting because people have been contacting us through all our social media, asking when and where can we see it, and now it’s out there,” Lambert says.
“Unquestionably they (streaming services) play a big part,” he says.
“Netflix is the go-to platform for people who want to see documentaries now.”
But he believes there is also a downside.
“Unfortunately that means that free-to-air television is not the platform now,” he says, adding that series and presenter driven approaches are more popular. “Seriously crafted, one-off documentarians are not featured on free to air television in a lot of places anymore and that’s sad. It means audiences who don’t have access to Netflix or those platforms don’t see documentaries as regularly as they used to.
“(However) it is fantastic that new platforms like Netflix are making headway.”