A Netflix romantic comedy is filmed on Zambian soil. Featuring famous lead roles. Really? Yes! This is most definitely the first production of this size and caliber carried out in Zambia.
Anyone who has anything to do with Zambia will be wondering, “How does Zambia get to feature as the key location in a 2019 Netflix Christmas film release?”
Well, it takes 4 years in the making and has something to do with serendipity, an actress with an interest in conservation and a dependable Zambian film fixing company called A to Z Solutions. Very few people would have known that filming took place over two blocks, mainly over a 3 week period in July 2018, followed by some pick up shots in June 2019.
Holiday in the Wild is a feel good love story about new chapters that also spreads a powerful message about elephant conservation.
The films dashing male lead was played by Rob Lowe, who was a teen idol and member of the Brat Pack, a group of teenagers who often acted together in 1980 coming-of-age films. Rob Lowe has more recently featured in The West Wing and Code Black.
Best known for her role as Charlote in 6 seasons and two movies of Sex and the City, many might not realise that actress Kristin Davis has a strong passion for Africa and conservation. This interest sparked from a holiday to Kenya where she ended up being part of an elephant rescue by the Kenyan equivalent of the Sheldrick Trust which she later became a patron of. The story of Holiday In the Wild is loosely based around this encounter.
The movie came to be because Kristin Davis was vocal about her love of elephants and conservation. The right people followed Kristin on Instagram. Then Netflix, who have a global audience and want a global content presence, got interested. Initially the movie was to be filmed in Kenya. However, as Dame Daphne Sheldrick had recently passed away and Kristin wanted to ensure a connection to a genuine Elephant Project, she began researching other projects. She came across Game Rangers International (GRI) and that is how Zambia and the Lilayi Elephant Nursery came to be selected. The result is wonderful PR opportunities for raising Zambia’s profile, GRI who completely rely on donations to do their work, and for the awareness of elephant conservation in general.
Kristin Davis didn’t just work really hard to make this movie and message happen. She also commissioned South African film company Black Bean Productions who, assisted by A to Z Solutions, did a behind the scenes documentary of the actual work done by GRI.
This documentary will be made available now that the film has had its first airing in November 2019. Rather wonderfully, Kristin Davis has donated this documentary to GRI to use for their PR and fundraising efforts.
Kristin Davis with rescued baby elephants who need to be looked after by dedicated keepers like Oscar because their mothers have been lost to poaching
What was it like working with Kristin Davis and Rob Lowe?They were both great — down to earth and easy to work with. Kirstin’s genuine love of Africa and elephants shines through. Having spent my early teens in boarding school dormitories clad with Rob Lowe posters it was very surreal meeting him in person — and yes, he is still a good looking man! It was also lovely seeing his interaction and relationship with his son John Lowe who plays Kristin’s son in the movie.
So, what exactly is involved in putting together a production of this kind? As you might expect, making a film like this come together in Zambia was pretty hectic! I think it’s fair to say that A to Z Solutions made a lot of things happen. Their work involved liaising with Zambian authorities, coordinating large amounts of equipment and high profile crew and cast members, and generally being the backbone of the Zambian element of the production. Their work involved:
How do you film baby elephants which are part of a conservation programme that discourages human contact?
The Game Rangers International project is all about re-wilding orphaned baby elephants. Most of these elephants have lost their mothers at a very young age to poachers, often even before they have been weaned. To maximise the success of getting these elephants back into the wild, GRI minimise unnecessary human contact and interaction through a very strict policy regarding contact from anyone other than a handful of dedicated Elephant Keepers.
As such, all the close up scenes in the movie which show Kristin Davis, Rob Lowe and other actors handling the baby elephants, were filmed using CGI or puppet elephants. The life sized and incredibly real looking elephant baby puppets arrived at the airport in sealed crates and A to Z Solutions had to organise the Temporary Import Permits for each of these!
10 tonnes of incoming cargo, including life size puppet elephants
How do you feel about being involved in a film that is set in Zambia?Due to certain financial incentives and tax breaks offered by the South African Government the vast majority of the movie was filmed on location in South Africa, including all the New York winter scenes, which complete with yellow cabs, New York signage and snow machines, were filmed in Cape Town! An entire street was shut down for this purpose.
As such, and only because Kristin Davis insisted on the authenticity of a ‘real’ project such as Game Rangers International being the central thread of the film, some of the scenes were filmed in Lusaka and at the GRI Lilayi nursery.
Despite this, for all intents and purposes, the movie is set in Zambia. Allowing for some Hollywood artistic license, which the purists and anyone who knows Zambia will immediately pick up on, the family watching their Christmas movie in America or UK will be none the wiser. They won’t even realise that ‘Asante Sana’ is Swahili and therefore completely incorrect for Zambia. Only those of us ‘in the know’, will know!
For the viewer, the story is based in Zambia. The positives of this are immense and the country needs to capitalise on this and build on the momentum.
This is not a documentary but a Hollywood feel good holiday Rom-Com for the family. We can all pick fault in the movie if we wish, but lets rather appreciate the bigger picture — the fact that this film will hopefully raise awareness to an audience who otherwise may not have even known Zambia exists, or that it is a country, and that we have this incredible wildlife and vast areas of natural beauty to offer.
Let’s focus on the fact this is a Hollywood / Netflix movie — not a documentary. This typical RomCom with its cheesy uplifting moments will help to not only put Zambia on the map, but will also educate a vast audience that may otherwise never have known about the very real threats and gruesome realities of elephant poaching.
It will raise awareness of the plight of elephant poaching and the real battles that are faced on the ground in countries like Zambia, every day. For Game Rangers International, who are fully donor funded, this movie will be a massive and much needed boost. Their ongoing work in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife is only possible through the support of donors and well wishers, many of whom watch Christmas movies like this.
What Kristin Davis has done is take a conservation message and packaged it up in a family friendly, easy to digest seasonal RomCom, not a gritty documentary. As a result, this message will reach a very different and much broader audience. This is good for the awareness of elephant conservation and good for Zambia.
Considering that the vast majority of tourists choose their holiday destination based on what they see and read about in the media, if Zambia is not prominent in these media outlets we can never truly expect Zambia to be known globally for the quality tourism destination that it is.
Anita Balletto, Managing Director of A to Z Solutions
Even before I became involved in the Film Fixing and Logistics world, when I sat on the ZAWA board before it became Department of National Parks and Wildlife, I kept on suggesting that instead of the Government looking at the filming industry as a revenue generating source, it should rather be viewed as a national marketing opportunity.
The more quality international production houses that we can encourage to come to Zambia to film, the better. Be it for documentaries or for feature films, this is such an incredible opportunity to promote and market what Zambia has to offer at zero cost to the country, and in fact, whilst generating some income.
Since its inception at the end of 2013, A to Z Solutions has since handled film crews from a broad spectra from documentary to reality, research and feature films, spanning the globe from the UK, Canada, Japan, China, Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, UK, Italy, France, South Africa, Kenya, and New Zealand, to name a few!
The filming opportunities are endless and there are still so many untold stories that Zambia has to share. Every time you turn on National Geographic or Discovery Channel there is invariably a documentary about Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa or Botswana, but very little to date, on Zambia.
I hope that my company, A to Z Solutions can work together with more film and documentary making organisations to increase the opportunities we have to put Zambia in the spotlight and get Zambia truly on the world map through the many Zambian stories we have.
NetflixThe film is now available to watch on Netflix
Go to the official Zambian screening of Holiday In The Wild in Lusaka
If you want to see A to Z solutions in the credits, you’ll need to keep watching to the end, where you will see Anita Balletto and A to Z Solutions, as well as a number of other great Zambians who helped with drone flying and played a part as extras.
Find out more about A to Z Solutions here. Please support organisations like Game Rangers International here. You can also support the project by visiting the Lilayi Elephant Nursery here.