Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (2005)
Directed by
Judy Irving
Featuring Mark Bittner
IMDB Entry

In 2005, audiences were treated to an amazing documentary about a group of birds in a hostile environment and how they lived, survived, and thrived.  It was ultimately, a movie about love.  And it wasn't March of the Penguins.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill documents an unnatural phenomenon.  On Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, there is a large flock of wild parrots. How they got there is a mystery. Some believe they escaped from pet shops; others that their owners let them loose when they tired of them; others that they came aboard a ship fromthe tropics.  The answer may be a combination of the three.

Judy Irving decided to make a film about the flock of parrots, and about Mark Bittner, the man who took it upon himself to look after the birds.

Mark Bittner Bittner is a hippie type who, from his apartment, not only fed the birds, but looked after them, giving them names and providing care when they're sick. He fought for them when a builder wanted to take down a tree they nested in. He is a man who dedicated his life to the birds, even writing a book about the parrots.

But two things really set this movie apart. The first ties into his naming the birds. Each of the birds has a personality; they become characters. Most notable is Connor, who is a different species than the rest of the flock, but who hangs with them like an unwanted younger brother, perhaps in hope as finding a mate. He is absolutely unforgettable.

The second thing is the ending. You don't get many twist endings in documentaries, but as you watch the final scene, you discover something else that is the perfect plot twist and which lets you out of the theater with a great feeling.

The film started out in the film festival route before gaining wide release in 2005.  Bittner is still caring for the parrots, who have now become something of a tourist attraction in San Francisco. And the film deserves to be ranked with the best documentaries ever made.

You can have your penguins.

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