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An elephant is an imposing creature – no wonder, that it has so often had the desires of humans projected onto it in films. There is no other animal that has been cast in such a variety of roles. Its memory is proverbial, its communication system sophisticated, its roles diverse: the Terrible Beauty film series uses selected film examples to show how the elephant, the ‘pachyderm’ known and loved from TV and film, has always been a figure on which humans project their own interpretations and desires. 

Key Visual schrecklich schön
Key Visual schrecklich schön © Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss; Getty Images / Parimal Bansode; bpk / Museum für Asiatische Kunst, SMB / Ute Franz-Scarciglia; bpk / Museum für Islamische Kunst, SMB / Jürgen Liepe; Getty Images / Stockbyte

A role which this striking animal not infrequently served was that of the embodiment of existing and outdated clichés of an authentic, strong, wild, indomitable Africa – a different, foreign, exotic but all the more fascinating place. From Elephant Queen to Elephant Boy, from Hatari to Light of Asia: this film series, commentated on by elephant and film experts from four continents, presents the elephant as a cinematic protagonist in a wide variety of configurations – sometimes cliché-laden, sometimes struggling to leave the clichés behind. The programme comprises a total of around 20 documentaries, animated and feature films related to the themes of the exhibition and with a focus on elephant and human. The films are a mix of classics, historical discoveries and contemporary productions from Europe, North America, Africa and Asia. 

Around half of the films are suitable for a family audience, and are particularly aimed at children and young people. Each film will be screened in its original format with subtitles and/or with live interpretation. Each screening will begin with a five- to ten-minute, specially produced Eye-to-Eye introduction given by a person with a particular connection to the film. 

The Terrible Beauty film series is curated by Dorothee Wenner:

SAFARI Ulrich Seidl Austria 2016

  • 91min
  • documentary form
  • recommended age 18+

Ulrich Seidl accompanies German and Austrian hunting tourists into the African wilderness, observing them from a distance on a post-colonial luxury holiday. They shoot zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, not elephants, although one of the tourists says he is tempted. A disturbing film that shows the longing for death as a borderline tourist experience.

Eye to Eye Introduction by Simon Pariken Kasoe, Ranger, Kenya 
Humboldt Forum: Saal 2