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July 12, 2003

Winged Migration

Went to see Jacques Perrin's stunning new film, Winged Migration, last night at Garden Hills (S referred to it as "riveting"). Migration uses exquisite camera work to follow several species of birds during their spring and fall migrations.

The narration and subtitles add little to our knowledge about birds, but that doesn't seem to be the purpose of Migration. The film is structured around these annual trips, opening and closing with a young boy watching birds play in a small pond, and an older woman feeds cranes that stop in her backyard every year, but the circular organization of the film isn't the major point. Instead, the "star" of the film is the amazing camera work, with the birds' flight captured by cameras mounted on hot-air balloons and ultra-light aircraft. Amazing tracking shots capture not only the extreme difficulty of the birds' flight, but also the film technologies that record it. Several other birds were "trained" to make friends with the camera crew (check out Ebert's review for some of these details), and we quickly identify with many of the birds through close-ups that show the birds eating, playing, and feeding their young on the ground. Oddly, these sequences, perhaps more than others, led me to anthropomorphize the birds, projecting my own human desires and perceptions onto them.

There are some more overtly "political" images in the film. We see images of birds caught in industrial sludge as they rest while flying over Eastern Eurpoe, but any political commentary about human intervention in the animal world is relatively muted. An image of duck hunters is disturbing because we know the difficulty of the ducks' flights, the hundreds of miles they have covered in their journeys; the film has, by this point, so clearly established our identification with the birds that the gunfire, and the falling birds, come as a painful shock, disrupting the gracefully flowing camera. But we earn a moment of triumph near the end of the film as a blue parrot, captured to be sold as an exotic pet, manages to figure out the latch on its cage door and flies to freedom. All in all, I'm finding it difficult to explain how powerfully Winged Migration moved me, how much it captured my attention.

Posted by chuck at July 12, 2003 2:48 PM

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