One of my favourite Saturday morning activities is sitting down for brunch and watching nature documentaries on Netflix. Some of my favourites come from the David Attenborough series The Life of Birds. Each episode of the 10 part series, highlights a specific adaptation or quirk of birds, with exceptional cinematography and beautiful, soothing, narration by Attenborough. It is difficult to pick a favourite episode from the series, but I have a special spot for the episode Fishing for a Living.
It is visually stunning, and while it lacks the same depth of narration as the Attenborough films, the narrative is just as clear. In order to get some of the amazing close ups the film makers raised and imprinted on some of the birds and flew alongside them during their migrations. This “documentary” took over 4 years to film, included on staff 17 pilots and 14 choreographers, and utilized planes, gliders, helicopters and balloons to fly alongside these birds as they completed their migrations.
I say “documentary” because of the imprinting process I mentioned earlier. While the birds in the film were neither trained nor captive, some of them – the birds alongside whom the filmmakers flew – became acclimated to people through the process of imprinting. Imprinting a concept developed by Konrad Lorenz in the 1930’s, is basically the process of transferring parenthood, in which a young animal acquires several of its behavioural characteristics from its parent, or as Lorenz discovered, the first being that an animal sees when it is born (see: Fly Away Home). The filmmakers, with the assistance of scientific advisor’s from the Paris Museum of Natural History, carried out the imprinting on some of the birds in the film in order to eventually be able to fly with them and film them from very close up. Footage from the imprinted birds is intercut throughout the film with footage of wild birds, creating a hybrid documentary, wherein some of the scenes are in fact somewhat staged, based on the familiarity of the birds with the filmmakers. Some reviewers have taken issue with this technique, but I think it still works well for the film, but does take away a little bit of the true documentary feel. But despite, or maybe because of, its staged scenes, Winged Migration masterfully explores the mysterious world of migrating birds and offers insight into the process of migration. I can get passed the interference of the filmmakers in imprinting on the birds, because as the character Abed on Community (returning March 15th!!!) says “documentarians are supposed to be objective to avoid having any effect on the story, yet they have the most effect because they decide to tell it.”
While documentaries might have an edge for capturing amazing visuals, birds have had important roles in non-documentary films as well. Over at the blog Listal, there is a 30 awesome birds from films. I couldn’t help but notice the absence of the birds (Harry’s pet Petey, and the two snowy owls) from Dumb and Dumber. And at Squidoo there is a list of the Top 10 Cartoon Birds in film and television. The list is awesome and reminds me of my childhood, my only qualm is the lack of Darkwing Duck in the list of Donald Duck relations. I know that Scrooge McDuck is some sort of intermediary between the two Ducks’ worlds (his employee Launchpad McQuack appears in both Duck Tales and Darkwing Duck). Speaking of Duck Tales, here is a clip of their awesome opening sequence, woo wooo.