Saturday, December 29, 2007

Globetrotting on Wings

Imagine a Government office on a weekday. What kind of faces you expect to see ? Mostly middle aged men and women, engaged half heartedly in the tasks , now routine for them for years. Some ‘know all’ veterans engaged in counseling the novices and some confused souls roaming around with not much work in hand. So on Wednesday last , when in one such office attendance was very bleak, at 5 in the evening, the boss decided to screen a documentary on migratory birds . What response do you expect from such a screening? Only few will attend and without much understanding, will copy the exclamations, praises and criticisms of the bosses...isn't it? At least I expected it to be so…and was surprised to find a very different reaction in the end. It was a house full show in our conference hall and though in the initial 10 minutes, there were whispers about what kind of 'movie' is this we moved along things changed for better . Yes, in my office, last Wednesday we screened Jacques Perrin’s oscar nominated documentary Winged Migration at my boss's insistence and a very mixed group of people was spellbound by the visuals and sounds of this amazing documentary. Eighty nine minutes of birds flying (and eating, and dancing, and floundering, and squabbling, and dying) were indeed quite sufficient to make audiences laugh, applaud, and gasp with wonder and delight .

In fact, I was wondering later on whether one should call it a documentary at all. My idea of a documentary is a bland linear narration of a subject. Not that I consider all of them boring or artless ,but there was something in this one which made me so happy. I don't remember getting such happiness from any other documentary. I was so happy to share the planet with such brave and beautiful creatures. Jacques Perrin and his team of technicians laboured nearly four years to create this paean to the beauty and character of our feathered friends, at least the ones that do a lot of traveling.. But the docu is not entirely about birds. Its about the world, humans and birds share . Human presence is very minimal in the narration , but we do have some very touching scenes with humans in it. Like a small boy running to see the birds back after a seasonal migration or an old lady feeding the birds in Spain. The feature is painstakingly shot without any special effects and that makes it very special. Further there is a clever use of transitions and very subtle use of commentary that makes it so perfect . But while i was watching it these considerations were not with me..i was just too engrossed in the beauty of the visuals and music .

Visuals are definitely the high point of the docu. Many shots are unforgettable: the reflections of Barnacle Geese repeatedly flash and disappear as they fly over flats with pools of water; Bar-Headed Geese sit calmly on a mountain in Nepal, looking remarkably calm in a driving blizzard, tuck their heads under wings, and then take off as the rumble of an avalanche builds( how the hell they knew that an avalanche is coming?) ; Red-Crowned Cranes strut, leap, dance, and trip on Hokkaido; geese fly above glaciers like cold blue granite; geese fly through a driving snowstorm with the camera traveling alongside them at eye and wing level; snow geese are shot from above as they fly over a flaming red maple forest in New York state; the telescope portal of an astronomical observatory opens just as a flock of geese flies across the widening slot; a pelican's lower beak pokes the bag of his neighbor's mouth all out of shape; dark African birds hold out their wings like an umbrella to shade the water they're walking in and many many more.

One thing that helps keep the film interesting is the variety of terrains as well as familiar landmarks from around the world. Cameras take us to the Himalayas, Saharan dunes, Greenland glaciers, paddies in China, a gorgeous desert oasis, grim and filthy industrial districts of Eastern Europe, and Antarctica. We see birds pass the Statue of Liberty at dusk, Mont-St-Michel, the World Trade Center towers, and the Great Wall of China. Geese flap under a bridge across the Seine, hardly giving a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty a glance, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We're treated to shots of a total solar and partial lunar eclipse.
But another and I dare say equally powerful feature was the soulful music. It was mostly a mix of sounds and instruments …no words as such( or may be in some language I don’t understand) , but it was so timely and so right for the visuals . Best part however, was to watch the birds living their lives unaware of the camera. Their joys, their routine, their struggles for survivals, their instincts was very facinating to watch .

At the end of the feature, I was just feeling very very glad….a feeling one rarely gets these days from any type of media. I highly recommend the documentary . Watch it if you can lay your hands on it.

No comments: