Dir: Judy Irving
On the recommendation of I Just Saw's own Maxwell, and through my own interest in nature documentaries, I sought out this short but very interesting examination of a sub-tropical bird flock in San Francisco and the man who cares for them. Max highlights the fact that nature flourishes in an urban environment and the focus on the individual personalities of the birds in the film. I echo those comments (especially the former) and would direct you to his earlier review.
But a few things struck me beyond what he writes. San Francisco itself takes a starring role, as the only city where this sort of human/animal relationship could happen. The caretaker is essentially a squatter, a homeless wanderer who spouts Corso and eschews "the system." It is not suprising that this guy exists, but that he is so organically integrated into the cityscape is great. A local coffee shop feeds him, the ornithologists treat him like any other citizen, and the owners of the cabin where he lives wouldn't dream of kicking him out. The jokes I whispered to myslef about the hippie were soon overtaken by a less cynical awe of the tolerance and easy going nature of one of the world's great cities.
On the other hand, the film does not do near enough to explore the human end of this equation. The anthropenctrism that Max alludes to is an inescapable component of this narrative, especially during a brief meeting with a couple that rescues birds. A visit to their home gives us a glimpse of almost destructive animal care, the house strewn with bird cages and (to my mind) close to unliveable. The type of people so commited to animal care that their enitre life revolves around it, who are so obsessed that they stand on the precipice of being "the crazy cat lady" and hoarding the very creatures they love, is a very important cultural phenomenon. That the film avoids this subject is unfortunate; it is indicative of a fear of offering any nuanced or potentially negative view of the humans. Not that this sort of advocacy documentary making is wrong, but there is another side to this story, one that is not as flattering to the humans, that I would have liked explored.
The upshot is a very watchable film that is somewhat slight. A more ambitious approach would have made a more evocative film. But it remains a fascinating micro-sociology of animals adapting to an unfamiliar environment.