Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sunday Review: Winged Migration

In memoriam the birds that didn't made it

By Morris Dean

Our local public library system doesn't have the two Disneynature films The Crimson Wing: Mystery of the Flamingos (2008) or Wings of Life (2011), which I mentioned in my July 6 review of Earth and Oceans. But it does have the 2001 documentary Winged Migration (directed by Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats, and Jacques Perrin, having no affiliation with Disney), which showcases the immense journeys routinely made by birds during their migrations. And it's a beautiful, eerie film.

It's the effective eerieness that I want to focus on for this short review. Shot over the course of four years on all seven continents, Winged Migration has a bare minimum of narration – very little explanation beyond what amount to captions over haunting images of valiantly flying Geese, Storks, Ducks, Pelicans, Cranes, Bald Eagles, ..., to indicate how far they fly for their migration, anywhere from a few hundred miles, to up to 12,000 for the Arctic Tern's migration from pole to pole.

    The film's strong, silent beauty comes from showing rather than telling. And it doesn't neglect to show instances of birds that didn't make it: The one that was separated on the ground from its flock by the thundering hooves of a herd of horses, the one injured somehow and left on a beach to fall prey to a gang of hungry crabs,

the one who wandered into metropolitan sludge,

the ones shot down by human hunters....All these personal tragedies shown starkly with utterly no comment by narrator Jacques Perrin.

Surprisingly (according to Wikipedia's article on the film),
the filmmakers raised birds of several species, including storks and pelicans, from birth. The newborn birds imprinted on staff members, and were trained to fly along with the film crews. The birds were also exposed to the film equipment over the course of their lives to ensure that the birds would react the way the filmmakers want. Several of these species had never been imprinted before. Film was shot from ultralights, paragliders, and hot air balloons, as well as trucks, motorcycles, motorboats, remote-controlled robots, and a French Navy warship.

    Also of particular interest to me because my grandson and his mother are Bulgarian and live in Bulgaria, the film's mesmerizing soundtrack was recorded by several Bulgarian vocal groups in Bulgarian, and vocal effects include sequences in which panting is superimposed on wingbeats to give the effect that the viewer is a bird, (according to Wikipedia). I did feel at one with the flyers...and the fallen.

Copyright © 2014 by Morris Dean


  1. Glory to feel at one with the flyers...and the fallen. See this beautiful, eerie nature film. Haunting soundtrack with Bulgarian singers, recorded in Bulgaria.

  2. Very interesting and great pictures! Nature is so fascinating!