Documentary Australia Foundation

Next submission deadline is
16 May 2014

Tyke: Animal Outlaw

Director /
Stefan Moore/Susan Lambert, Susan Lambert/Stefan Moore/ Megan McMurchy
2012 November
AUD $60000
AUD $500000
80 minutes
Community, Social Justice, Welfare

About the film

A circus elephant goes on a rampage, kills her trainer and dies in a hail of gunfire, traumatising a city and raising profound questions about our relationship with other species.

The story begins on August 20, 1994 when Circus International arrives in Honolulu. As 2,000 excited spectators fill the stadium, children are invited to place flower leis on the elephants. One is a 9,500-pound African female named Tyke.

As the show gets underway, the clowns come out first followed by the acrobats. Suddenly, Tyke bursts into the arena and attacks her groom. Her trainer attempts to come to the rescue, but Tyke throws him to the floor and kills him instantly. Tyke breaks out onto the busy streets of downtown Honolulu. After a chase that lasts almost an hour, Tyke goes down in a hail of 87 bullets – all in front of television news crews and horrified onlookers.

Tyke’s rampage makes headlines around the world, but back in Honolulu, the city is in shock. Almost a hundred lawsuits are filed. There is mass trauma counselling for the children who witnessed the incident. Circus industry lobbyists are flown in to stop the banning of performing animals. And Tyke becomes the symbol for a global campaign to end the abuse of animals in captivity.

Tyke’s story began on a savannah in Mozambique in 1974 where she witnessed her entire family killed in a culling operation before being taken into captivity. Over the next 20 years she was trained to perform through repeated beatings, electrical shock, and food deprivation. Tyke was a time bomb set to explode.

The story is told by those who knew her and those who remain deeply affected by what happened. Among them are eyewitnesses, a police officer involved in her shooting, the last elephant trainer to work with Tyke before her rampage, lawyers, a circus industry lobbyist, a psychologist who has devoted her life to understanding the minds of elephants, and animal rights activists. Through their conflicting perspectives on what happened that day, Tyke’s story is an allegory about our deep and mysterious relationship with other species.

Funding amount Sought

AUD $60000

Total Project Budget

AUD $500000

Length of Production

80 minutes

Stage of Production


How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?

The feature-length documentary Tyke: Animal Outlaw comes at a global turning point in awareness about animal rights issues. We believe the emotional power of Tyke’s real-life story will be a huge draw with general audiences worldwide and will tap into the growing appetite for film stories exploring the relationship between humans and other species. Tyke, the film, will provide an extraordinary opportunity to build an animal rights awareness campaign.

In our local context, Tyke will resonate with an Australian public that is becoming increasingly sensitive to issues of animal welfare and rights. This awareness has been enhanced in recent years by the activism of organisations such as Voiceless and Animals Australia that have drawn attention to institutionalised animal cruelty, most strikingly in several recent live-export scandals. Internationally, the success of groups such as WSPA, WWF, Greenpeace, AVAAZ and Get Up! in mobilising massive public response via well-organised networks shows how audience empathy and interest can be channelled into direct and effective activism.

Voiceless has already provided support to Tyke during its development phase and we hope to attract additional support for the film from other animal welfare organisations.

What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?

We believe Tyke: Animal Outlaw has the potential to offer audiences a powerful emotional experience that will move them and challenge their thinking and attitudes about the relationship between humans and animals.

The initial measure of the film’s impact will be the scale and breadth of its distribution, and its critical and commercial success. Launched on the international film festival circuit and with prospects of theatrical release in some territories, Tyke will extend its audience reach through DVD release and online distribution. The film should also achieve significant exposure over broadcast television, both free-to-air and cable.

By staging the film’s exposure to various audiences over different platforms and in different territories across several years, its long-term impact will be enhanced. This distribution strategy will create many opportunities for the film to be utilised in campaigns around animal rights and welfare issues at various places and times. Publicity for the film will emphasise the fundamental issues embedded in the film, and offer links to relevant activist campaigns.

Positive media stories and reviews will strengthen Tyke’s public profile and make it a valuable tool for organisations wishing to promote animal issues.

What is your education and outreach strategy

To build advance awareness for Tyke, an online presence and a social media campaign via Facebook and Twitter will be created and rolled out during the film’s production phase and maintained through release and distribution. A dedicated Tyke website will be created using Tyke’s story to explore issues as wide ranging and diverse as habitat loss for elephants and other species, the global circus industry’s use of performing animals and the need for sanctuaries for all wild animals in captivity. The website will link to animal rights groups in Australia and around the world and the entire online and social media campaign will be managed in close association with the philanthropic and animal rights organisations who will help support these activities.

An informative study guide will be produced to accompany the film and all Australian schools and tertiary institutions will be alerted to its availability online.

Flame Distribution will distribute the film to educational institutions, community groups, libraries and lobby groups.

Who are the filmmakers responsible for the project?

Stefan Moore is a producer/director of documentaries in the US, Britain and Australia. Recent films include Mysteries of the Human Voice, Honeybee Blues, The Cars That Ate China and Race Against the Killer Flu. Previous films include the 8-part PBS/BBC series The Trouble with Medicine, PBS documentaries Presumed Innocent, Trouble on Fashion Avenue, and The Irish Tapes. He has received numerous awards including four Emmys and is a Guggenheim Fellow.

Susan Lambert’s award-winning film and television work has been broadcast and distributed in Australia and internationally. Lambert has produced and directed documentaries and series including Tokyo Bound: Bondage Mistresses of Japan, Love and Money, Deadly Enemies, The Good The Bad and the Ugg Boot, and Recipe For Murder. Recently she directed episodes in the landmark ABC series On Trial and The Making of Modern Australia.

Megan McMurchy’s documentaries include Sadness, Mr Patterns, Remembering Rain and Mystique Of The Pearl. She co-produced For Love Or Money, For All the World to See and the series Fine Line and Hybrid Life. Megan was series producer on Hoodlum’s multi-platform drama Fat Cow Motel and also produced the features Footy Legends, Talk and Breathing Under Water.