Le Peuple Migrateur (2001)
(Winged Migration)     

Alan:

Ebert: Rolling Stone:1/2 TV Guide: 


Winged Migration is a film about the seasonal flight patterns of birds.  That's really all there is to it.  There's very little narration and it does not really teach us anything about the birds it studies.  It's not that kind of movie.  It is however, the most stunning, beautifully filmed, non-educational wildlife documentary I've ever seen.  

Made by our timid and birdlike allies, the French, this Oscar nominated film has some of the most remarkable footage I've ever seen of animals simply existing in their assorted global habitats.  The camera actually flies with the birds as they make their seasonal migrations North and South.  Some footage looks as if it was actually shot by one of the birds in the formation.  As if they taught a bird how to use a tiny camera and infiltrate a flock.  It's simply amazing.  

You never really appreciate the difficulty of flying until you see birds migrating 1000's of miles over water, unable to take even a moments rest.  One of the species, an arctic tern called a Stakhanovite, actually flies over 12,500 miles, from the Arctic to Antarctica twice a year.  It's crazy!

Along the way and throughout their lives birds are in a seemingly never ending battle of survival.  We see birds that fall victim to pollution and industrial waste.  A broken winged bird fighting and losing to a monstrous onslaught of crabs.  Baby birds plucked from their nests and eaten by bigger birds as well as a fratricide that transpires when one baby pushes the unhatched egg of a sibling out of the nest.  We see a nest of ill-fated baby birds caught in the path of a thresher.  And most difficult to watch is the unfortunate birds that after successfully migrating 1000's of miles are mercilessly shot out of the sky as they pass over certain parts of North America.  Because of the intimacy of the camera work we can't help but be aghast when our new friends are blown away by some drunk stupid hick hiding in the bushes below. 

The soundtrack lets us hear the whoops and cries, squeaks and squawks, and assorted banter of birds as they communicate.  Whether it's in flight presumably giving audible direction to the flock or formation, or warning others of impending danger, calling a wayward baby back to the flock, or providing a vocal display of virility to a potential mate, birds are always yapping on about something.

To capture the incredible footage the film makers employed all types of flying machines including helicopters, hot air balloons and ultra light aircraft.  Robots were used to infiltrate flocks on the ground.  The effort also required the help of hundreds of people, including 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers. They were broken down into five teams that followed the birds into 40 countries.  225 feet of film were exposed for every foot used in the final cut of the movie.  

In addition to the majesty of the birds in flight the cinematographers also captured some wonderful footage of incredibly beautiful and picturesque scenery.  China's Great Wall, Monument Valley Utah (near the places where we just went for vacation) African sand dunes, the glacial Arctic, European castles, the Amazon rain forest, and many other stunning locales.

This movie is a unique visual experience and not to be missed.  Hurry over to your local museum or art house theatre and catch it before it flies away forever.