The affection that documentarian Judy Irving feels for a wild flock of
parrots and for Mark Bittner, the man who dedicates his time and
understanding to its feeding and care, is apparent in her film. So much so,
that even when the essential story is told in colorful and fascinating
detail, she goes on with filler and repetition until it achieves feature
length. By then, the subject, unique as it is, is quite exhausted. But,
that's what's given it a crack at festival recognition and a commercial
Commercially, arthouse patrons will surely enjoy the film's telling of man
intersecting with nature -- one who is dedicated to the care and feeding of
red and blue topped parrots native to South America who have formed a flock
and have been partially living off Bittner's seed-filled palms. He has
formed a bond of attachment to his opportunistic avian following and enjoys
recounting his experiences and aims.
He tells of his general failure at the string of careers he's pursued:
writer, poet, singer, songwriter, street musician. Finding plenty of time on
his hands due to lack of success and, perhaps, some limitation of talent and
discipline, the wild birds came to his attention during a housecleaning gig
on Russian Hill. His interest developed into an outlet and a temporary
career as a naturalist without science portfolio.
Nature-loving, pet hugger patrons will lovingly sit through every detail of
his singular relationship to birds, those he's kept as house pets, the
injured ones he's brought in only for temporary care, and the 45 or so wild
ones he's named and identifies by unique markings and personalities. He
claims to know every one as individuals.
Besides much actual footage of his feeding forays, sometimes drawing a crowd
of questioners, filmmaker Irving widens the study with interviews of everyone
involved, like the well-off couple who have been bird-feeder Bittner's
enablers by allowing him to live in their bungalow on Telegraph Hill in San
Francisco rent free, and allowing him the time to write articles about the
flock and write a book, " The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill: A Love Story... with
The audience that will thrill to the subject may well be upset at real estate
reality which eventually brings such good things to an end -- but not before
the formation and opportunistic survival of a wild flock far from their
natural habitat can be explored and appreciated.
Bird lovers should lobby for this in a double feature with Jacques Perrin's
"Winged Migration," an exquisite bird adventure of larger geographical
scope and visual inspiration.
~~ Jules Brenner