An indelible tale of friendship and commitment set against the luminous beauty of the Central African Rainforest. Together, elephant behavioral biologist, Andrea Turkalo, and indigenous tracker, Sessely Bernard, are tested by the realities of war and the limits of hope for the majestic animals they have committed their lives to study and protect.

“Riveting! Touching, important, beautiful...it opened my eyes”

Maureen Langan, KGO Radio
Synopsis: 

With unprecedented footage, Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku captures the beauty and behavior of the rare and elusive Forest Elephants. Our guides - Sessely Bernard, a tracker and elder of the Bayaka people, and Andrea Turkalo, an American field biologist, join eco-guard Zephirine Mbele in Dzanga Bai, a rainforest clearing in the Central African Republic.

The Seleka, an alliance of rebel militia groups, takes control of the government and region. Andrea flees to the United States, Sessely leads his family into the rainforest, and Zephirine retreats to a nearby village. They must leave the Forest Elephants at risk of being poached during the occupation.

Reviews

"Elephant Path/Njaia Njoku draws an intimate portrait of the lives of the elusive forest elephants and how their fate is intertwined with the indigenous people sharing their forest and those who aim to protect and study them. It is a must-watch for all who are seeking authentic insights into conservation and research in the context of the uncertain political situation in Central Africa."

Daniela Hedwig Ph.D, Director of Elephant Listening Project, Cornell University

“The sculptor Todd McGrain has made a name for himself, over a thirty-year career, as the creator of sculptural monuments to birds that have been the victims of “human-caused extinction.” It’s not, therefore, entirely surprising that he has directed a documentary about forest elephants, “Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku”...”

Peter Canby, The New Yorker

“Beautifully crafted and poetic documentary” 

Kristy O’Brien, Eat Drink Films

“Director Todd McGrain is not interested in manipulating our emotions. He lets the people and images speak for themselves. The result is poetry — and oddly inspiring.” 

Linda Falkenstein, James Kreul, Catherine Capellaro, Isthmus
Director's Commentary: 

I first heard the calls of forest elephants in a small windowless recording studio in the offices of the Elephant Listening Project at Cornell University.  Sitting beside me was renowned elephant behavioral biologist Andrea Turkalo.  The room was filled with the night sounds of the Central African Rainforest.  Across a thick fog of insects and frogs floated the plaintive calls of Forest Elephants. There were roars and trumpets, long pulsing rumbles, and screeches (which I later learned belonged to infants calling for their mothers).

Andrea had recently arrived in Ithaca to help her collaborators decode these calls.  Andrea’s descriptions of the rainforest, the indigenous people she has worked alongside, and the peril the elephants were facing set a path for me that I would follow for the next 4 years.  Along the way I would travel with security contractors, go on patrol with eco-guards, and spend extended time in the forest with the Bayaka people, who were avoiding the civil conflict unfolding across the country.  Sessely Bernard, a Bayaka elder, had worked with Andrea for 23 years.  It was Sessely and his extended family that truly gave me this remarkable unfolding story.  I am honored to have been invited into this world.

There are common elements in every contemporary extinction story: unchecked market forces, corruption, greed, overexploitation, and habitat loss.  A more optimistic commonality between these tragic histories is the presence of a dedicated and inspiring group of thoughtful and forward looking people sounding the alarm of impending loss.  It is my hope that the efforts of these people will be fortified by this film.  Elephant Path / Njaia Njoku is their story.