Making the Grades
I hesitate to use the words "wildlife documentary" in describing this movie, because I fear far too many readers will assume they've seen far too many films about animals.
Let me assure you you've never seen a film like this. And I'd guess even the most jaded, desensitized young viewer raised on a diet of action heroes and gunshots would become reluctantly engaged in what is likely to become a classic documentary film.
Winged Migration is the result of over four years of effort by Jacques Perrin, a French documentarian who has gone to arduous efforts to allow us to see birds from their point of view. Using a variety of manned and robotic aircraft, helicopters and balloons, Perrin brings us into the world of birds to the extent that the occasional brief image of man or his modifications of Earth appear foreign and obtrusive.p> The film follows the flights of various migrating birds around the globe. Some fly a few hundred miles each year, while others fly thousands. The definitive "air points" king is the Arctic Tern, which transverses the globe with its annual Arctic to Antarctic flight.
But what is amazing is Perrin hasn't chosen birds at random. Instead, we see the same flock in various locations. For instance, one bird is caught in a discarded net, but released by a kind child. Hundreds of miles later, we see the same bird, still carrying a small piece of netting on its foot. At the close of the film (shot a year later), the bird still totes the mark of man.
In the film business, we call this continuity 0x2013 something huge Hollywood studios often mess up. (Ever notice when an actress is suddenly holding a coffee cup in her other hand after an edit?) The inclusion of this visual evidence propels the story flow even more than the scant narration, and suggests (or confirms) Perrin and his crew literally climbed mountains, crossed oceans, and trekked across deserts to give us the true picture.
The groundbreaking cinematography is sharp, detailed, and crisp 0x2013 again amazing considering the difficulties in getting a camera this close to wildlife. And it is very close. Watching these birds fly thousands of miles, we can view their muscles, hear the flap of the wings, and practically feel the beating of their hearts.
Using pictures rather than words, Perrin creates a visual environmental statement as we see birds navigating through industrial sites 0x2013 once with sad consequences. Two other short scenes have our winged protagonists shot from the sky by anonymous hunters. A couple of other moments feature natural predators extracting their assets from the food chain. Yet Perrin has kept explicit carnage off the screen, wisely choosing to only show what we need to know, and keeping his film suitable for any age of viewer.
Painted with the subtle brush of a beautiful musical score, this film is a tremendous gift to a world needing a peaceful reminder of whom we share this planet with.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Winged Migration.
Perrin says he hasnt utilized any special effects in making his documentary. How might a documentary director be tempted to use technology as a substitute for filming 0x201Cthe real thing?0x201D Do you think modifying the picture or sound to create a more vivid or moving experience would be ethical in the documentary genre?
Some documentaries use a nearly continual voice-over narrator that essentially tells you what you should be thinking as you watch the pictures. Perrin instead uses the images to tell most of his story. Which do you think is more effective?
One thing the documentary doesnt address is what has happened to these imprinted birds now that the project is over. Do you think they could be released into the wild after being with humans for so long? Is it right for us to meddle with nature this way?
To learn more about the filming of Winged Migration, along with many facts about birds, check out www.sonyclassics.com/wingedmigration.