Wild and Scenic Film Festival - Unchained


There is always a better alternative to keeping any living being in chains.

Interview with Writer/Director Alex C. Rivera


Congratulations! Why did you make your film?

I was working in the past as a Travel guide in Nepal, India and Tibet, and during my trips I saw the elephants in Sauraha, Nepal. That image will stay in my memory, in an unforgettable way, for the rest of my life. Once I decided to devote my life to making movies to promote awareness and active social involvement on issues that are not easily visible to most of society, this was the first image that appeared in my mind: elephant slaves to provide entertainment for humans. During my research I knew about Carol Buckley and Elephant Aid International, and after sharing some information with her and meeting her in Nepal, I was able to recognize in her work the most appropriate way of making this subject known, and therefore I did.

Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?

“Unchained” needs to be seen. Its message is that through pragmatism and persistence, there is hope that ‘captive’ elephants will gain improved respect and welfare. Ultimately, there will be a transition away from abusive elephant training for ‘entertainment’, burdening ‘tourists’ on their spines, to an ‘educated‘ tourist spectacle of herds of unchained ‘captive’ elephants to admire without intrusion; the elephants’ mahouts able to look on with pride, dignity and we hope at long last, a deeply felt mutual respect – a potential atonement indeed.

All this brutal cruelty and depravity to ‘train’ an elephant for a potential 60 year life expectancy subject to man’s behest – to provide elephant riding safaris perhaps, or even circus performances as human ‘entertainment’, the subject elephant’s back, limbs, senses bombarded and abused daily. Then, the elephant is chained and denied even the temporary respite of freedom of movement.

Unchained - Elephants in chains. Sauraha, Nepal.

Unchained - Elephants in chains. Sauraha, Nepal.

How do personal and universal themes work in your film?

Historically, the human being has been closely related to the environment, nature and animals, making use of them at our whim. We should not spend another minute of our life in which we identify the need to respect what surrounds us just as we like to be respected and use our skills and evolution as a species to make the place we inhabit a better place, we should Respect and care as our most valuable possession, because it is. 

This is evident in any place that the human being inhabits and must be carried out in the most viable way in each place, making the step that we do now take towards a much higher state of respect for our planet in the future, and so each step takes us to the next. 

How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?

During the development of the initial idea, my idea was to go to Nepal, film the brutality that occurs daily with the elephants and their consequences and make it available to the audience to prevent these events from continuing. Later I met Carol Buckley and the projects she was carrying out in Nepal to improve the situation of the Elephants and the community that lives around them.

That was the true discovery of the documentary and when everything took a sharp turn. The key was not to blame but to teach, show and help to see all those living around the elephants that another way is possible and that can be much more fruitful and enriching for all involved.

What type of feedback have you received so far?

There have been some film magazines that have done articles on Unchained, and all of them very encouraging, but the most important thing is to see how activists and wildlife lovers feel that Unchained has the power to make people see the importance of the environment, as this is what supports us.

Unchained - One day old baby elephant, trying to take the chains off her Mother. Breeding Center, Sauraha, Nepal. Still by Leticia Ruiz

Unchained - One day old baby elephant, trying to take the chains off her Mother. Breeding Center, Sauraha, Nepal. Still by Leticia Ruiz

What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?

We Are Moving Stories is a good place to get our "Unchained" project to the audience, and create interest in seeing it. Once the audience can see Unchained I am sure they will see the need for as many people as possible see the film, because Unchained addresses the issue of animal abuse from an educational point of view and encourages us to respect that which lives on this planet. Respect what does not need us and what we do need.

Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?

We have now reached an agreement with Principal Media as Sales Agent to represent Unchained for the International and National distribution, trying to make it visible to the audiovisual world market in any of the existing platforms. That said, what Unchained needs at this time is that all these distribution platforms become interested in our project and thatmore people can see this project the more satisfied we will feel aboutour work. 

During the filming we found that much of the fault of the abuse to which the animals are subjected, in this case especially the elephants, is due to the ignorance by humans, the tourist, of the real consequences of making use of animals for our entertainment. Therefore, it is of extreme importance that we all see what happens and what we should not do. Unchained provides a lot of data concerning the subject.

What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?

Unquestionably, I would like to see how use and abuse on animals and the environment is eradicated, but as Carol Buckey says, what is important is what we can do right now. But I would be satisfied if each of the people who see Unchained is encouraged to spread the word and make this message visible, because that way we will be prepared to go one step further towards social awareness about respect to any living being and the environment in which they reside.

Unchained - Behind The Scenes - Writer/Director Alex C. Rivera and Carol Buckley from Elephant Aid, Breeding Center, Sauraha, Nepal.

Unchained - Behind The Scenes - Writer/Director Alex C. Rivera and Carol Buckley from Elephant Aid, Breeding Center, Sauraha, Nepal.

What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?

Have you thought about the consequences of having a ride on an elephant or going to the circus to see animals doing acrobatics or funny things to make you laugh?

Would you like to add anything else?

As we should all ‘know’ working in co-operation will always yield a better longer-term result for all parties concerned, engendering mutual respect and loyalty. 

On the other hand, dominance, intimidation, threats and violence yields ‘results’ of a different kind - breeding contempt, duress, leading ultimately to the mental and physical destruction of the abused party. The human abuser can also become conflicted with shame and a need for atonement, but with some are sadly lacking any such compassion of course.

ow imagine a young elephant, taken into a life of captivity, chained so its movements are restricted to the point where the elephant’s limbs can become permanently malformed, scarred, injured and infected. This same elephant's will is drained from repetitive beatings with bars, sticks and metal ‘bull hooks’ to subjugate the elephant into obedience. Sometimes an abused elephant’s eye is hit and maimed, leading to blindness for life. 

What are the key creatives developing or working on now?

My next project is in the post-production stage and is a documentary about the life of drug addicts and how this affects their way of relating to everything around them, altering their way of seeing life, leading them to madness, marginalization, and to see the world in a totally different way to the non-addicted human being can not even imagine in their worst nightmares. This new project will be called "Zero Meridian", and it will show how there are cases in which the only way these addicts can achieve stability and face their addictions is when they take refuge in nature and observe its immense beauty, which makes them, in a way, reach their own inner peace.


Interview: January 2017


 We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us?  More info: Carmela



There is always a better alternative to keeping any living being in chains.

Length: Two versions, 80min. and 61min.

Director: Alex C. Rivera

Producer: Alex C. Rivera and Leticia Ruiz

Writer: Alex C. Rivera

About the writer, director and producer: (25 words each)

Alex C. Rivera is a newcomer filmmaker who, despite having a wide experience in different professional fields, (between East and West), in 2012 decided to put aside his routine and take a new path: cinema. After several years of learning, writing, producing and directing several short films, in late 2015 he decided to focus his efforts and savings in a cause that affected him greatly, elephants in captivity, with a documentary film called "Unchained."

e studied Film Studies at Kingston University in London (United Kingdom) where he has lived since 2013. In his own words, what our senses do not feel is something that does not exist, and cinema is the most important means of communication to make visible what is not visible to the naked eye. He is currently working on a documentary about drugs and life called "Meridiano Zero".

Key cast: Carol Buckley, Lauren Moolenaar, Kristjan Bahadur Edwards

Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists):
Journalist, Distributors.


Made in association with: Wake Up Films Production Ltd.

Release date: 

Where will it screen in the next month?
Wild and Scenic Film Festival (Nevada City, CA, USA)