wild parrots … couldn’t drag me away

June 16, 2009 § 9 Comments

HM and I are taking a break from the print world this evening to watch a documentary. It combines San Francisco, nature TV, Beat literature, photography, the CityLights Bookstore, birds, homelessness and the environment. And love.

It is The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.  It begins with such lovely photography that I wouldn’t care if no one talked in the film.
But of course they do.

four minutes into the film … OK, I’m hooked. Mark Bittner, the co-star of the film (with the birds) is singing to the parrots  (they are cherry-headed conyers) and one of them is bopping to it.


Also part-time narrator and topic of the film, Bittner lives in SF, for 15 years on the streets, though not homeless, he says, to clarify.  His was on a spirtiaul path rather than a career path. 

But it didn’t work out. Neither did his music which he went to SF for.
He tried different things, including making cappcinos which gives an instant “in”  in SF, but nothing suited. A fanof poet Gary Snyder, Mark took Snyder’s cue:”If you want to know nature, start where you are.”

So Mark began sitting on his balcony on Telegraph Hill and he held out birdseed. Birds began to come.
Wild birds.
Wild parrots.
About 45 of them.

He comes to know each of the parrots, he names them, is attuned to their markings and their personalities. He loves Connor, the eldest, the blue crowned conyer ignored principally by the others and mateless.  He loves Mingus, who will only live indoors with Mark. He talks about Pushkin and how he raises his own babies when his mate is hawked. He talks of Sophie and Picasso, hoping that Sophie will pair with Connor when Picasso fails to return. (Hawks are always a possibility when parrots disappear.)

What does Bittner do, actually? He keeps a flock journal of the birds, he gets coffee and a roll from an Italian bakersy shop where he’s treated like a “bella bambino.” People give him things, contributing ultimately to the parrot “project.” 

The documentary continues, with us seeing more of the birds, more of their habits, a bit on their nests (locations NOT given) and the fledging of the babies. We meet the owners of the house eventually for which Mark is the “caretaker.” 

Filmaker Judy Irving deftly weaves in some dramatic tension (or is it my inherent need for story with plot, climax, denouement?) No, it’s there.  And it keeps us watching, as if the photography and the character of the parrots is not enough.

I will say that I shed a tear. I cannot tell you why. You may react differently.

The film is 83 minutes long. If  your Netflix queue needs something to  pop it, I recommend this one. 
And I will give you one clue because I love love: Mark cuts his hair.

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§ 9 Responses to wild parrots … couldn’t drag me away

  • Lys says:

    this is something i would love to see! i had a parrot once, i had rescued it from a petstore that was going to sell it to some guys who wanted to feed it to their snake. i raised it for about a year and a half before i sold it to a deaf couple (which was actually fortunate, because that bird could scream).

    but i love documentaries, and they’re even better when they include some form of nature and free-spirit. thanks for the recommendation!

  • Kim L says:

    You know, I heard about this one and I heard it was really good but the plot summary didn’t really get me all excited. Except that now your review makes me want to reconsider and add it to the netflix queue.

  • oh says:

    Kim, Well, I gotta say there really isn’t a plot. It’s a piece of time, it’s a close up on a guy’s , “work” with parrots for a certain amount of time. And you do wonder where the piece is going to go. And yes, it does go somewhere. But there are mini-stories along the way about the parrots, and the parrot couples and about Bittner himself, like, how does he live? Where does he get stuff? And these questions are answered discreetly along the way. And there’s fine photography, after all, parrots are photogenic but every now and then the film maker catches something really special, like a scene where the Blue Angels are flying in formation and the parrots are flying in formation at the same time. It’s very cool. I think you would like the “peopleness” and “parrot-ness” of this piece, plot aside. Enjoy!

  • shoreacres says:

    Now, this is a “movie” I want to see. My area is full of Quaker parrots – monk parakeets – who build amazing, huge nests in the power poles and chatter and swoop and live their tropical, parroty lives right under (above) our noses.

    One of my favorite websites that I visit regularly is about the wild parrots of BROOKLYN, mind you. This winter, the photos of the parrots in the snow were amazing. They’re stars in their own right – you can find them here: http://www.brooklynparrots.com/

    I’m thrilled to have found this. Thanks so much for the post!

  • laylou says:

    I’ve always kind of wanted a parrot.
    Darn hawks eating baby parrots and etc. I don’t like that, food chain or not!

  • oh says:

    Dear Shore, So glad you have an interest in parrots. Actaully, it’s one of those films that draws you in, in great part because you wonder how a person gets such an affinity to and relationships with wild creatures. It’s a marvel. And fascinating.Hope you’re enjoying it! and the end of the film gives a shout-out to the parrots in Brooklyn and several other cities, which is great news actually!

    Laylou, Yeah, in every “nature” film, there is the constant wrangle with predators (the part we don’t like to see). I think you’ll enjoy this one though, for seeing some of San Fran as well as the little love story that develops. I won’t give away any more than that!

  • jeanie says:

    I first saw this film last season in PBS’ “Independent Lens” and you have it so right. It’s beautiful, it’s touching, and it is filled with heart and soul. Definitely worth watching!

  • oh says:

    Jeanie – Yes, I was surprised at how it drew me in, although I’d say that the phtography won me over first! But no, it was the guy who we see feeding them in the opening scenes. I wanted to know his story.

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