Winged Migration (France/Italy/Germany/Spain/Switzerland; 99min.)


directed by: Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats
documentary

Le Peuple Migrateur
 
Esmé says: "My second favorite movie of the year was a documentary. After I watched it, I drove to Western Mass in the morning. Every flock of flying birds made me want to be up in the sky with them, and any funny object I couldn't immediately identify, I thought was a crane or a goose. The filming of this movie blew my mind. (Several years of incredible footage of the migration of birds from all over the plaent)"
 
Georgette says: "Count me in for four cats. Although I'd like to give it 4.5, I found that the narration broke the mood and the narrator was hard to understand. I thought the facts appearing on screen as subtitles worked really well, and would have preferred more subtitles in place of the narration.

"Nevertheless, this was a wonderful film. As others have said, the music was perfectly suited to the visuals, and it really did feel as though you were soaring with the birds. So exactly how can I book a trip to the Artic Circle?" 4 cats

 
Howard says: "Interestingly enough, this documentary really does send you soaring. No, it's not a bad pun. It's fact. How they get close-ups of birds flying hundreds of feet in the air is something that will only be solved (I hope) by a special feature on the DVD.

"WINGED MIGRATION takes us on the migrations path of several species of migratory birds all over the world including Antarctica. But it doesn't just stop there, we actually spend some time with each group watching them rest, eating and raising a family. In fact, one of the most wonderful shots is of a group of geese coming in for a landing on a French Naval vessel and resting after an exhausting trip. They basically just land, explor a bit and then have a bit of snooze on a war ship traveling full steam.

"This is a film for everyone, not just those of us that like watching nature television. There is a narrator, but he is kept to a minimum and we are left completely immersed in the environment listening to the sounds around us. WINGED MIGRATION is a truly spectacular film that will leave you breathless from its dizzying heights." 4 cats

 
Laura says: "French filmmaker Jacques Perrin spent four years traversing the earth's seven continents with five crews using gliders, balloons, helicopters and remote controlled cameras to bring his audience into the midst of a world of WINGED MIGRATION.

This Oscar nominated documentary is a superior technical and artistic achievement in cinematography and one of the most riveting and beautiful nature films ever made. Given a literal bird's eye view, we soar above the earth at heights that scream special effect (none were used) or glide along close enough to an avian companion to see its individual feathers ruffle in the wind.

Perrin begins in the French countryside where he will follow migrations across the globe heading for seasonal food supplies before making the trek back when nature demands. Perrin throws statistics at us via subtitle, identifying species and the distances they traditionally travel (with a tern that actually flies 12,000 miles from the Arctic to Antarctica) accompanied by his flat commentary. But its not the numbers we're hear to marvel at.

The bird's very design for its environment is cause for consideration as we watch a water bird flatten its webbed feet out vertically for landing. A crested species' mating dance is performed with the synchronicity of pairs skaters. The sheer volume of a flock that appears in the distance like a dense, swirling, black, shape-shifting cloud is awe-inspiring, as is a shot of geese fill the sky with the density of Escher's famous drawing. The striations and colors of Monument Valley are reflected in the pattern of birds' belly feathers, and as they fly above it, they're mirrored in water which apes the sky they inhabit.

Have you considered the survival of birds which must cross oceans? Perrin finds a gray military vessel in a choppy sea where exhausted birds stop to rest (this scene and much of the chorale like music and swooping overhead shots recall the British animation THE SNOWMAN). Distance isn't the only hardship, as we witness a shore bird with a damaged wing surrounded by, then encompassed by crabs. A water fowl is waylaid by a polluted puddle in an Eastern European industrial facility. Penguins are distracted by a predator as its partner sneaks in from the rear and steals their chick. (The director notably cuts away from any gore, instead suggesting the aftermath.)

Perrin slightly weakens his film's impact by adding drama, such as his editing of an avalanche to suggest we've been standing with the birds in its path or his shot of a caged rainforest parrot making its escape that would have required the collusion of the poacher (which also begs the question - do parrots migrate?). Still, one can only admire the man's mastery when he returns to where he began and takes our breath away with an astonishing shot of a songbird hopping towards us through a dense thicket.

WINGED MIGRATION is an enforced stop to smell the roses, a filmic poem about the majesty that surrounds us every day." 4 1/2 cats

 
Michael says: "I laughed... I cried... I cringed from the harsh violence of nature. WINGED MIGRATION has it all! This extraordinary documentary about birds' migratory patterns blew me away. I just kept marvelling at the amount of work and resources that must have been put into this incredible film. Using minimal narration, music that was sometimes amazingly appropriate (the off-beat ballet playing to the dancing cranes) and sometimes a little corny, and stunningly innovative camera work to capture the birds in flight, WINGED MIGRATION really put you right there with the birds as they travel thousands of miles through every environment imaginable to their summer and winter homes.

I was in awe of the sheer strength these birds possessed to travel the distances they do. Geese, ducks, terns, pelicans, cranes and more are featured. From the arctic tundra to the African desert, with stops along the way such as the great U.S. west and industrial Eastern European cities, these birds must deal with avalanches, blizzards, crashing waves, spilled oil, hungry crabs and hunters. WINGED MIGRATION is a cinematic marvel. I highly recommend it." 4 cats
 
Peg says: "I saw this at a press screening this week and thought it was absolutely astounding. On some level it could be called a mere nature documentary; yet it is so much more. Jacques Perrin has created a stunning film which chonicles the year for a number of migratory birds from all over the world, and does so with heart-stopping and often impossible-seeming photography. The opening credits state no special effects were used when photographing the birds. One thing that is fascinating to behold is the sound made while the birds are flying; the sound design is as well-executed as the photography. The cameras get unbelievably close and some of the aerial shots are epic: even showing parts of the globe from higher up than most of us go in airplanes. There are also sequences of birds in their resting phases of summer before they return to their homes.

"Narrated partly with subtitles and partly with voiceover (with a French actor's heavy accent reminding us this is a rench film, but his narration and the titles are all in English), we learn the many thousands of miles travelled by different species for survival. Some might think the narration is a bit melodramatic at times, or the accompanying soundtrack (instrumental and vocal music from all over the world, taking a cue from films like BARAKA) is over-the-top at times, but I found myself completely entranced and mesmerized. Then again, I love animals.

"An early sequence shows a young boy cutting a Greylag goose's foot from a net, so it can join its flock as they begin their migration. We see this same goose again and again, flying, feeding, swimming, identifiable by the frayed blue netting still stuck to his foot. This seasonal cycle is the only real structure the film follows. There are scenes where the various birds are attacked or killed by predators (including hunters), and others where they are injured or killed by weather. In one movig sequence, brightly-colored Amazon parrots are help captive in wooden cages on a poacher's boat. One blue and gold parrot manages to undo the latch on his cage and fly to freedom; not so fortunate the other birds and monkeys left behind, bound for zoos or pet-shops.

"Geese, ducks, cranes, eagles, hawks, puffins, parrots, terns, toucans, flying over forests, fields, cities, glaciers, oceans, mountains exploding with giant avalanche clouds of snow. Leaving their homes to search for food, and returning again when the weather changes. Year after year, as accurate as a compass, as predictable as the waxing and waning of the moon. A simple film, but as beautiful and thrilling as anything I have seen in years." 4 1/2 cats
 
Robin says: "Perrin and his crew have succeeded in giving us a real, often astounding, up close and personal view of all kinds of migratory birds and the obstacles they face every spring and fall as they traverse vast distances just to survive. The list of birds that we, literally, fly with is lengthy with such marvelous species as Whooper Swans, Red-crowned Cranes, Snow Geese, Puffins and the Arctic Terns (which migrate an astounding 12,500 miles from Antarctica to the Arctic, twice a year).

Between the film's narration, charmingly and articulately provided by Perrin, and the titles that tell us the name of each kind of bird being followed and how far they travel in their journeys of survival and procreation, we get an 85-minute lesson in ornithology. The tutorial is sweetened by the incredible feats in flying with the sometimes vast migratory flocks and photographing them as they traverse oceans, mountains, canyons, glaciers, cities, oasis and desert in driving rain, blizzards and relentless sun in their search for food and nesting grounds.

The film is proudly titled, in the beginning, that no special effects were used in the production of WINGED MIGRATION, which makes the project all the more astounding. At first, Perrin's cameramen put themselves in gliders, balloons and specially equipped helicopters. But, the three-year production allowed the filmmakers to utilize new technology and some of the most spectacular footage is shot from video cameras mounted on remote-controlled gliders and helicopters and a specially designed aircraft called the Ultra Light Motorized craft that gives a 360-degree perspective.

WINGED MIGRATION is not just made up of majestic photography as the camera gives us the birds' view of the earth. It also shows the trials and harsh conditions these creatures face as they make their compass-perfect journeys of thousands of miles. We are also observers in the mating and feeding rituals - a wonderfully amusing water dance by a group of Clarke's Grebes is, alone, nearly worth the price of admission. We also see the creatures' heartbreak when mating pair of penguins unsuccessfully try to protect their baby from a couple of persistent scavenging gulls. But, the violence of Mother Nature is kept subdued, making WINGED MIGRATION true family entertainment.

Music is used, with various degrees of success, to give the film an auditory flow. The lofty sounds of a large chorale are used to lend certain sequences a majestic quality, but the accompanying music works best when it uses an organic beat that fits the moment, like the subtle percussion over the images of the dancing Grebes.

I couldn't help reminiscing, while watching Perrin's work, about the well made, educating feature Documentaries that Walt Disney Pictures used to make in the 50's and 60's like WHITE WILDERNESS and THE VANISHING PRAIRIE. WINGED MIGRATION is a superb addition to that pantheon of nature documentaries and deserves acclaim for the stunning cinematography, artistry and technical achievement." 4 1/2 cats