Monday, November 3, 2014

Making birders of us all, Judy Irving is back with a new documentary, PELICAN DREAMS

Has it really been eleven years since The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill burst upon the documentary scene and turned a lot of us into the "birders" we didn't know we were? Hard to believe, as it seems like only a few years ago that those parrots landed. Now, the woman who made that excellent documentary, Judy Irving, returns with a new one devoted to pelicans. Nowhere near as brightly colored as those parrots (except, it turns out, when they are mating!), and generally quite a bit larger, too, pelicans are most noted for their huge bills and pouches, as well as for executing some amazing, straight-down-and-speedy dives into the sea for their next meal, which is a single dish: fish.

If you are one of those folk who think you prefer parrots to pelicans, maybe think again. It appears that Ms Irving's love of birds (the film-maker is shown at left) is so utterly contagious that she'll turn you into a pelican lover in no time. I suspect that, should she set her site on the life of the lowly sparrow, she would have us (and it) quickly eating out of her hand. (Now that I think of it, the sparrow has recent-ly been done; see Bird People, if you haven't already.)

PELICAN DREAMS begins with a grabber: a lone pelican (above) is found wandering and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. (She will later be nick-named GG, in honor of that bridge, though her official moniker, as listed on her leg band, is Pink 193).

Once the bird is taken to a wildlife shelter, Ms Irving follows GG's progress at the same time as she begins giving us some wonderful information about the life of the pelican -- everything from how they change pouch and eye color (below) when mating to the purpose of the near-constant preening of their feathers.

Irving's smart, caring narration, coupled to some excellent cinematography, makes for a fine entrance into the world of this bird -- which does indeed resemble a flying dinosaur (which is how Irving thought of them when she was a young girl).

Along the way we meet some awfully nice teams of husband/wife wildlife caregivers, who add to our knowledge of both GG and several other pelicans who have been injured and will try to be brought back to flying life. We also learn about a special brand of pelican air conditioning, how the bird manages to get frostbite, the earlier scourge of DDT and the later one of oil spills, and finally the havoc that climate change is already wreaking on the pelican population.

If you enjoy limericks, there's a good one here about the bird, but there is also some bad news. From the combination of things -- overfishing and climate change, to name but two -- being a pelican in the 21st Century means starving to death. These birds can only handle small fish, but hunger makes them attempt the eating of larger sizes, as well as the pieces of unused fish that fishermen toss away. We see one bird rescued from choking to death on the oversize head of a salmon.

One of the most amusing/amazing sections of the film deals with a pelican named Morro, above, who has not been able to fly again, exploring for the first time the inside of the house where his keepers reside. This is special. But then, so's the whole movie.

Pelican Dreams -- from Shadow Distribution and running 79 minutes -- opens this Friday, November 7, in New York City (at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema) and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. It will also open concurrently in Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Monterrey and Palm Springs, and in the weeks to follow will open all around the country. To see currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here and scroll down.

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