Wildlife documentary filmmakers Mark Deeble and Victoria Stone spent 25 years living in the East African bush to prepare for their nature odyssey “The Elephant Queen,” the first film from Apple TV+.
Here’s the official synopsis, courtesy of Apple TV+: “The Elephant Queen is Athena, a majestic elephant matriarch, who leads her family across an unforgiving, yet cinematic natural landscape made up of grasslands and woodlands, dotted with seasonal waterholes. The elephants share their home with a cast of supporting character species who provide texture and richness to the elephants’ ecosystem — from a toenail height perspective. Athena, as leader of her herd, anticipates the coming dry season and knows there are lean times ahead. As the waterholes dry up, she has no choice but to take her family on a treacherous journey across even more foreboding landscapes, as the majestic creatures seek refuge until the rains fall again.”
Sure to be a tearjerker, “The Elephant Queen” is not your typical wildlife doc, as it’s shaped and edited like a narrative feature film with the elephants as the protagonists in this story. The film originally premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, followed by Sundance in 2019. It’s narrated by Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor. Right now, IndieWire’s Anne Thompson has the film among the frontrunners for the forthcoming Best Documentary Feature Academy Award shortlist. Nature movies often play well with the Academy, from 2005’s “March of the Penguins” to 2009’s “The Cove,” which both won Best Documentary Feature.
In his review, Variety’s Scott Tobias wrote, “This soft-hearted nature doc often doesn’t jive with life-threatening issues as it tracks an elephant herd across the African savannah…There’s a gap between the story Stone and Deeble want to tell about love and family, and the much grimmer story nature itself is telling, in unsentimental terms. In the end, it’s hard to reconcile the two.”
“The Elephant Queen” will open in select theaters on October 18, followed by an Apple TV+ debut on November 1, which is when the service launches for a cool $4.99 a month. Apple TV+’s other upcoming films include “Hala” (November 22) and “The Banker” (December 6, following an AFI FEST world premiere).