THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL
Review by Ed Nguyen
Director: Judy Irving
Audio: English Dolby 5.1 or stereo 2.0
Subtitles: English closed captions
Video: Color, full-screen
Studio: New Video
Features: Flock update, short films, home movie, music video, deleted scenes, trailers, booklet, promotional pages
Length: 83 minutes
Release Date: December 27, 2005
he had the opportunity to be wild, he wanted to stay free."
one thinks of parrots and their wild habitats, usually the image of a dense
South American rainforest is conjured to mind.
A teeming urban metropolis hardly qualifies. Yet, strangely enough, stable populations of wild parrots
indeed exist and thrive within such startling and unlikeliest of locations.
Irving's documentary The Wild Parrots of
Telegraph Hill (2003) follows one such Californian flock of cherry-headed
conures. These parrots are northern
Peruvian birds and certainly not indigenous to the United States.
Nonetheless, there they are, bunches of cherry-headed conures flapping
around the hills of San Francisco.
man who has taken these colorful and intelligent birds to heart over the years
is Mark Bittner. Once an aspiring
young musician but now simply a friendly if harmlessly eccentric San Franciscan,
Bittner spends his ample free time tending to these wild birds.
He feeds them and observes their behavior continuously.
In fact, Bittner has such rare insight into the behavioral patterns of
these parrots that his common knowledge of the conures would rival that of a
hypothesizes that the original parrots had either been released or had escaped
from their cages, with subsequent successive generations of parrots accounting
for the increasing size of the parrot population around the bay area.
Other San Francisco residents, including inquisitive tourists or peeping
neighbors, also offer their own urban legends over how the birds might have
arrived into the area.
matter the truth, the reality is that the conures are there to stay, and Bittner
is so familiar with them that he can identify individually named birds.
There is music-loving Mingus, a wild bird who nevertheless prefers life
in Bittner's home whenever he can get in. There
are Picasso and his mate Sophie, both injured birds dependent upon one another
for support and companionship. There
is Olive, a female mitred conure (a large southern Peruvian bird) who is perhaps
the grand matriarch of the flock. On
the flip side, there is cranky curmudgeon Connor, the sole blue-crowned conure
of the flock. In Bittner's opinion,
the mingling of these species has created a new breed of conures exclusive to
the San Francisco Bay Area.
the documentary, Bittner reveals other tidbits of information about these
delightful birds. For instance, the
cherry-headed conures (also known as red-masked parakeets) are totally green at
birth and only later develop the distinctive reddish-tint to their head
feathers. Parent conures are
extremely devoted to the care of their young.
And in light of the ever-vigilant red-tail hawks around the area, Bittner
even describes the cunning defense maneuvers employed by the cherry-headed
conures to avoid or confuse their predators.
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
isn't entirely cheerful, however. These
parrots, being wild, are not immune to the inherent dangers of freedom.
Bittner occasionally takes in injured birds and cares for them until they
are well enough to return to the wild. The
sadder fate of some of Bittner's more beloved birds is recounted by the somewhat
tearful bird lover in the concluding portions of the film.
While poignant, these stories illustrate the preciousness of life, large
or small, and the transcendence of affection and devotion beyond mere size or
physical appearance. Bittner truly
loved his birds, and in their own way, wild though they may be, they loved him
picture quality is soft and mildly grainy with a few instances of debris here
and there but nothing too intrusive. Images
are otherwise bright and colorful, as would befit a film about wild exotic
birds. For a documentary, the video
presentation on this DVD is just fine.
soundtrack is available in a 5.1 or stereo 2.0 mix. Audio is a combination of commentary by Bittner and direct
sound with the usual background traffic noise or buzz of everyday life.
Dialogue is clear with optional English closed captions.
DVD opens with a trailer for Touch the
Sound, an acclaimed documentary about deaf percussionists.
Found elsewhere on the disc is a grainy but charming trailer for The
Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill itself.
first group of bonus features on this disc is quite delightful, and each feature
truly enhances the experience of watching The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. There are no useless fillers here. Many of these featurettes easily could have been incorporated
into the documentary itself.
is A Flock Update (7 min.).
This featurette describes how the conure flock has changed and expanded
in the intervening years since The Wild
Parrots of Telegraph Hill was first filmed.
Bittner points out new members and familiar birds who still remember his
kindness during his years at Telegraph Hill.
are also seven deleted scenes (25 min.), ranging in length from half a minute to
fourteen minutes. Some of the
topics include conure babies and juveniles and more urban legends.
The best deleted scene concerns perhaps the real origins of the San
Francisco flock, as experienced by a Laurel Wroten four years before Mark
Bittner had even begun tending to the birds (starting around 1993).
Wroten too was enamored with the birds and fed them herself until moving;
she was familiar with some of the conures (such as the blue-crowned Connor) that
Bittner himself would later befriend.
quartet of short films also awaits. The
poignant Homage to Connor (12 min.)
highlights the friendship between Bittner and this exceptional conure.
Connor is gone but not forgotten. Mingus
at the Oasis (8 min.) provides an update on the whereabouts of Mingus, now
happy at the Oasis Sanctuary for birds. Bittner
visits his former avian friend and even plays a guitar jingle to which Mingus
dances. This is a rather sweet
short film! California Quail (3 min.) is a quick look at a pair of California
quails and their chicks on a restoration site.
This short film was created by the Golden Gate Audubon Society in an
effort to promote habitat preservation for these native birds.
biggest selection here is Mark's Home
Movies (28 min.), a grouping of various home movies shot by Bittner.
The clips go back to the early 1990's when Bittner first began to notice
the birds. Many birds mentioned in
Bittner's eventual book about these conures are shown here, and Bittner
references his text on numerous occasions to identify his relationships with the
individual birds (including several not seen in the documentary).
These home movies collectively might be considered a prequel to The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, as the footage was shot long
before the participation of director Judy Irving.
the shorter extra features, there is a music video (4 min.) by singer Roberta
Fabiano dedicated to the parrots Dogen, Connor, and Tupelo.
second section of extras is devoted entirely to biographies or promotional
pages. The section opens with a
biography about Judy Irving, the documentary's award-winning filmmaker.
There are also promotional pages for Mark Bittner's book and memoirs
about the film, the soundtrack, and the production companies Pelican
Media and Docurama.
most extensive feature in this section is the huge Docurama catalog library. There are over one hundred entries,
including trailers for Bob Dylan: Don't
Look Back, Brother's Keeper, Go
Tigers, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, Lost in La Mancha, Paradise
Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hoot Hills, and The Weather Underground. It
is a pity that so many of these documentaries choose such violent, incendiary,
or angry subject matters. What's
wrong with more parrots? If the
visual sensory overload is too much, Docurama
also includes a catalog booklet with this DVD for viewers who prefer to read the
good, old-fashioned way - on paper.