Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

The Birdpeople

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Like most well-made documentaries, this 2004 film presents its subject from a variety of angles: birders in New York's Central Park together with telephoto close-ups of their quarry, stuffed birds seen alone and in museum dioramas, a search for the presumedly extinct ivory-billed woodpecker, an affecting text about a woodpecker's nearly successful attempt at pecking out of captivity. What makes Michael Gitlin's film extraordinary is the way it represents birding as a special way of seeing. Close-ups of birds in the field isolated by surrounding branches in soft focus are paralleled by jerky zoom-ins on book pages or stuffed specimens, echoing the way the collector's eye homes in on prized treasures. Paired with the theme of ecological ruin--the sheer number of birds worldwide has declined steeply--the birder's quest is given a melancholy poignancy. 61 min. Sat 2/26, 8 PM, Chicago Filmmakers. Gitlin will attend the screening.

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