A Q&A with The Elephant in the Living Room director Michael Webber

An Ohio native, director Michael Webber first worked in television as a commercial director. He later served as writer, director, producer and visual effects supervisor on hundreds of television and motion picture projects and spent several of those years producing feature film projects for the bigwigs at Twentieth Century Fox and Lionsgate. But in 2008 after a friend loaned him a few books about people who keep exotic animals as pets, he decided it was time to make his own damn film. The resulting documentary, The Elephant in the Living Room, is a film he directed, produced and shot. A sometimes harrowing look at exotic animals and the people who own them, it focuses primarily on the relationship between Outreach for Animals director Tim Harrison and lion owner Terry Brumfield. In addition, it includes hidden camera footage of exotic animal sales and conventions and shows the lengths to which some people will go to own a dangerous pet. The film has been making its way around the festival circuit and screens at 2:20 p.m. Friday, March 26, at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, March 27 and at 9:20 a.m. Sunday, March 28 at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Webber, who will be in town to attend a film forum after the Saturday screening, recently answered a few questions via phone from his Los Angeles home.

How’d you end up going from producing other peoples’ movies to making one of your own?
I had never done a documentary before but I wanted to. I like films based on true stories and documentaries are the epitome of that. Sometimes when you’re producing other features, they’re not your personal taste. I wanted to do something more personal. I thought the documentary would be a good fit. I couldn’t find something that would interest me. A friend of mine had told me about the topic and gave me a coupe of books on the subject. I read the books and they were written by Tim Harrison, a police officer in Ohio who was the epicenter of this issue. I decided to explore the topic. I contacted him, and I thought it was fascinating. I spent a year doing research and discovered the topic was bigger than I imagined. It’s happening all over the country and the world. At that point, I thought it was what I wanted to take on.