The Birdpeople | Chicago Reader

The Birdpeople

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.

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