In the northern hemisphere spring, migrating birds fly towards the Arctic lands, where they were born, to reproduce. Some fly without pause, others in stages. They use astronomy to navigate and are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field. Arriving from every continent, they disperse and mate. The new chicks have to quickly learn to fly to undertake their first supreme test, the migration south to warmer climes as the Arctic summer ends. This is a film that documents some of those extraordinary airborne journeys alongside the birds.
Review by Louise Keller:
If you have ever dreamed of flying, don’t miss this spectacularly beautiful film about the flight of the migrating birds. The birds navigate only by the sun, the stars, the magnetic fields and the familiar landmarks as they travel thousands of miles from one pole to another, across continents and oceans, snow-capped peaks and flat, sweltering deserts. And it’s all in the name of survival. Meditative, joyous and inspiring, this is a documentary that will bewitch every age. In fact, it is much more than a documentary – it is a thrilling mix of drama, comedy, romance as we not only fly side by side with the birds, but witness their quest for food, rituals of courtship, amusing spats, graceful mid-air dances as well as their struggle to survive against the odds. The talented makers of Microcosmos and Himalaya took four long years to shoot Travelling Birds and did so across seven continents and with the assistance of a massive crew of over 450 people including 14 cinematographers. How this astonishing footage was captured is hard to imagine, but we find ourselves alongside these magical creatures whose tiny heads are dwarfed by giant wings that seem to oscillate tirelessly. We are flying, gliding, soaring with all different kinds of birds flying low, flying high, in small and massive formations. We meet Puffins from Iceland, Barnacle geese from Brittany and Iceland, the Sandhill Crane, Snow Geese from Quebec, pelicans from Senegal, European turtle-doves, black-necked swans from Brittany, flamingos, eagles, secretary birds and hornbills from Africa, storks from Normandy and many more. They prance and dance, jump, cavort, trip and preen, even performing ballet-like movements on the water. They use their webbed feet for landing and their sharp beak to catch their prey. I watched in awe as one bird manipulates its supper, having speared the fish, it then juggles it, tosses it and then swallows it, in one big gulp. Some of the birds are camouflaged by their amazing markings, while others stand out from their environments, like those brilliantly coloured birds of the Amazon. The devastation we feel when a hunter shoots down some of the birds that have travelled thousands of miles, is inexplicable. Or that satisfying, triumphant moment when a captive bird on a barge in South America, cleverly sets itself free. But mostly, the emotion is one of wonder, as we watch these extraordinary creatures and perceive life from a birds-eye-view. Travelling Birds is an unforgettable, haunting and breathtaking experience to be savoured.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Halfway through Travelling Birds I became aware of a rare sensation that the earth was indeed a whole, a single entity that lived and breathed as one, even in its vast diversity. I think this is one of the possible effects of following birds around the sky for a while, ignorant of borders and obstacles, even of human beings. We seem to fly with them, as part of the flock. Soaring over deserts one minute, crumbling giant icebergs the next, our sense of place of Earth is gradually reworked. This view from the sky is part of the exhilarating experience of the film. The other boost comes from seeing vast numbers of different birds do remarkable things – remarkable to us, natural for them. For much of the film, I found myself asking ‘how did they FILM this?’ while watching close ups of birds flying high above the ocean, above the earth, on the water and clinging to Arctic rocks. Close ups so close their pupils are the size of footballs, their feathers within reach. Beautiful, moving images of birds flying solo or in formation, swooping and turning like a disciplined aerial army, or playfully haphazard. Staggering cinematography of spectacular subjects is almost overwhelming in its majesty, spoilt only by music cues that often state the obvious. The sparse commentary is in charmingly accented English, and the occasional facts about which birds migrate how far and where, provide the bare bones of ornithological knowledge. The only thing I could have wished for is some orientation to go with the extraordinary images so I knew what wonder of the world I was flying over. Take this flight.
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Favourable: 2 (Andrew, Louise)
TRAVELLING BIRDS (G)
(France / Italy / Germany / Spain / Switzerland)
(aka Winged Migration)
CAST: Documentary; Puffins in Iceland. Cranes in Japan. Snow Geese across New York City. Turtle Doves in Mali. Ibis in Vietnam. Bald Eagles in the Grand Canyon. Penguins in Antarctica. Macaws in the Amazon . Flamingos in Kenya. Condors in Argentina and Chile. Swans in the Camargue. Albatross in New Zealand. Canadian Geese across Monument Valley. Pelicans in Senegal and India. Ducks and White Storks in France. Sparrows on Montana. The humble Pigeon from the Pyrenees and many more. Narrator: Jacques Perrin
PRODUCER: Jacques Perrin, Christophe Barratier
DIRECTOR: Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats. Jacques Perrin
SCRIPT: Stéphane Durand, Jacques Perrin, Francis Roux (idea by Valentine Perrin)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Olli Barbé, Michel Benjamin, Sylvie Carcedo-Dreujou, Laurent Charbonnier, Luc Drion, Laurent Fleutot, Philippe Garguil, Dominique Gentil, Bernard Lutic, Thierry Machado, Stéphane Martin, Fabrice Moindrot, Ernst Sasse, Michel Terrasse, Thierry Thomas
EDITOR: Marie-Josèphe Yoyotte
MUSIC: Bruno Coulais
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Régis Nicolino
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 19, 2003 (advance screenings June 13, 14, 15, 2003)