"The Last Elephant," National Audubon Society Productions' first venture into fiction, is also a major step in Audubon's attempt to change its image from birdwatcher to activist.
Audubon, long known for its print materials and more recently for its documentaries, wants higher-profile programming for a general audience.
In the past year, Christopher N. Palmer, 42, president and executive producer of Audubon Productions, has created a music video using the Grateful Dead's "We Can Run"; signed a collection of big-name stars to narrate another season of documentaries, and arranged for joint ventures and joint funding for a raft of other projects:
Apple and Lucasfilm, for example, are helping develop science programs on environmental issues, to be available on videodiscs for schools and institutions. The interactive program, using laser videodisc, computer and print media, is to be ready for fall for use, initially, with Macintosh computers.
Turner Broadcasting, Audubon and WETA are behind Audubon's annual series of eight hour-long documentaries that air first on TBS, then PBS, then in syndication. Last March, General Electric signed a $3 million commitment to fund the programs, which have won more than 40 national and international awards since they began in 1985. Each summer season features four new documentaries and four from the previous season.
Turner spent more than $4 million on Audubon's first fictional film, "The Last Elephant," airing Monday on TNT. The film, released theatrically in Europe as "The Ivory Hunters," will be available on videocassette next spring, along with its companion book published by John Wiley & Sons (foreword by Richard Leakey).
With funding by Citibank and a $210,000 grant from the United States Department of Education, Palmer plans to expand Audubon's Science Institute for teachers. The science classes began last summer for 20 junior high science teachers from the District; this summer, 45 teachers from Montgomery County also enrolled.
Also successful: Audubon Wildlife Adventures, a computer software program featuring learning through role-playing available for school or home use. The first stories, on grizzly bears, was released in December 1988. The second program, released in late 1989, featured whales. Programs on poaching and whales are to follow.
Future projects: comic books and more music videos, nine books for children (to be published in 1991-92 by Bantam), college textbooks (to be published in 1993), and a weekly hard-news magazine-format television program on conservation and environmental matters.
Palmer, who joined Audubon in 1980 and started its TV department four years later, is trying to reach people beyond the membership of 500,000 and others on the society's mailing lists. His Audubon Productions, a wholly owned, nonprofit subsidiary of the NAS, now includes video, film, print, music and computer software.