Winged Migration

Director: Jacques Perrin

France| 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 85 mins.

Given the extraordinary visual imagery and exemplary educational credentials of Sir David Attenborough’s BBC television series The Life of Birds, you might think a cinema documentary about our feathered friends superfluous. But French actor turned documentary filmmaker Jacques Perrin employs a blend of modern technology and artistic inspiration to give us a unique, intimate insight into the lives of migratory birds. Using ingeniously designed cameras rigged to a variety of flying machines – gliders, tiny remote-controlled planes and helicopters, hot-air balloons, and motorised ultra-light aircraft – the film allows the audience to take wing. We fly alongside the geese, cranes, ducks and wading birds as they fly between their summer breeding grounds and winter habitats, often more than 1500 miles apart.
The voice-over narration is kept to a minimum, there are no maps showing the routes, and best of all, there are no explanations of how these breathtaking images were captured. At its best, Winged Migration achieves a level of visual abstraction on a par with Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 eco-opus Koyaanisqatsi: a seething flock of starlings wheels and swoops against the horizon at twilight; the camera stares directly into the eye of a goose as it rhythmic wing-beats propel it forward hundreds of feet above the ground; the camera zooms out to reveal a rocky promontory swarming with agile rock-hopper penguins. In these transcendent moments, a fascination with patterns, colour and light suggests an aspiration not so much to scientific accuracy as to pure aesthetic beauty.

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