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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 over-wintering 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 its 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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