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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.

How was this extraordinary film made is the question on everyone's lips and in the Behind the Scenes feature, we are privy to a glimpse of the processes used to achieve this remarkable cinematic feat. Split into segments, the proximity of the birds to the cameras is extraordinary: the birds have no fear. With the cinematographer sitting in the front and the pilot behind in what appears to be a flying machine from days gone by, the birds are so close, we feel as though we could touch them. The plane is a cross between a parachute and huge fan and the birds seem unaware of its presence. We are then taken on a different kind of adventure, as we join the crew as they trek through the desert setting up equipment in the most desolate of locations. Birds jump on the edge of the hot air balloon in flight, as camels slowly plod through the desert.

The photo gallery offers a selection of images and there are statements from directors Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzard and Michel Debats. "Man has dreamt of birds since the aeons of time," writes Perrin. "How to imagine being among the very first to transform this universal dream into reality? I will always treasure the memory of the first time we achieved this." 

Therapy for the soul, this is film to see over and over again; you will never fail to be amazed!

Published November 20, 2003

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(France / Italy / Germany / Spain / Switzerland)

(aka Winged Migration)

CAST: Documentary with 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

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

RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 16: 9

SPECIAL FEATURES: behind the scenes, photo gallery, directors’ statements

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 21st Century Pictures

DVD RELEASE: November 19, 2003

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