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For a number of reasons, there are flocks of parrots in several cities
around the USA; these are not native birds, but imports from the
tropics. Sometimes people complain about their raucous, noisy behavior,
but usually onlookers are charmed by the colorful, intelligent birds.
Even San Francisco has a few of these flocks, one centering on Telegraph Hill. Mark Bittner, a jobless but not irresponsible man living for several years on the Hill became curious about the parrots--mostly cherry-topped conures--and eventually befriended them, spending much of his time feeding the chipper, clever birds.
This movie is really about the man, not the birds, and shows how and why he became so attached to them. Bittner is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and sometimes engages in persuasive self-examination. He talks about particular birds, describing their distinctive traits, and the director uses footage that depicts these traits, winning and otherwise.
It's an oddly fascinating movie, respectful and warm toward the birds and their caretaker--and gradually turns into something even more extraordinary: a love letter to an unusual man. This is very highly recommended.
Judy Irving and Mark Bittner have done a wonderful job capturing his
calmness and humanity against the backdrop of wild parrots. Is this a
film about parrots or Mark or both? Both! And it really works well. Ms.
Irving put her movie making talents all together to combine a wildlife
documentary and science lesson with a love story. Mark treats these
birds as wild animals although many of them act like pets. They're wild
and that's the way they should be. Mark and the parrots fear the hawks
(Red-tailed, Red Shouldered, Coopers, and Sharp Shinned and probably a
Peregrine Falcon - sorry I'm a birder), but Mark also shows us some of
the aggression and odd bird behavior in the flock that seems to be
pretty normal. A very good movie...and tremendous scenes of San
Thanks Mark and Judy.
This film has a zen-like quality. It masterfully documents the
bitter-sweetness of life with that magical aspect of wholeness and
completeness that all great art embodies. It seemed effortless, honest,
open. Clearly loving, sometimes painful, tragic, always beautiful,
inspiring... Finely photographed and masterfully edited, this is an
actively multi-dimensional film of transformation.
Attempting to compare this film is inappropriate, in my opinion. It stands alone and quite well on its own.
I noticed it was made in 2003, which would seem to indicate difficulty in getting distribution. If this hypothesis is true, I would consider it nothing less than a criminal indictment of the society in which we live.
To all the people who brought this film to me I send my warmest regards.
This is a little gem of a movie that deftly combines beautiful
photography with an touching story line that gains depth as the movie
progresses. The comic acting of the parrots and Mark Bittners amusing
narrative keep the film from total chickflickness. Fun and touching,
what more do you want. And, oh yeah, it's non-fiction. Great ending!
I guess the only film that comes to mind to compare it to is Winged Migration, a big hit film (for an indy) about birds. Parrots has some great footage of the birds in question, but none of that flying with the flock sensation thatt Winged had. But what Parrots has, of course, is humanity. The relation of Mark to the birds is central to the films arc. The film also addresses the issue of humanities impact on the environment and the natural vs unnatural setting for the parrots.
Ultimately it decides, and I agree, we've changed the environment of urban areas irretrievably so let's not pretend otherwise.
It's a shame more people won't get to see this film. I find that documentaries such as this are increasingly becoming much more entertaining than the rehashed plots that Hollywood dishes out. The themes that even some of the best mainstream movies explore very well are that much more poignant and interesting when they're presented in real life. What's more, the plots in real life are often stranger and more fanciful. The relationship between Mark Bittner and this group of misplaced San Francisco parrots is amazingly deep and will touch your heart. Mark recognizes many of these birds by name and knows their personalities more thoroughly than most people know their friends. It's a wonderful piece of luck for all of us that a documentary film maker took the time to explore the life of a man and flock of animals that most people would never give a second thought. All the way through you care for the animals and Mark, and the ending is wonderful for mark and the film maker in a way that seems like it had to be dreamed up for Hollywood.
This documentary, produced, directed and edited by Judy Irving, focuses
on an erstwhile homeless man named Mark Bittner. His life in and of
itself is not that interesting and not the centerpiece of the film. It
is what Mark Bittner has chosen to do with a few years of his life that
is what makes The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill compelling. As the
title implies, he takes care of a fairly large flock of wild parrots
that congregate on, yes, Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.
It's a very simple story really. Mark, by his own admission, never really pursued any kind of career, although he once aspired to be a rock star. He lived in basements and cellars and on the street. Eventually, he began to feed and become involved with the parrots. Conveniently, he found a small home on the hill that he could squat in. The owners of the home, interviewed in the film, state that it would've seemed wrong to not let him continue to stay. Unfortunately, he must leave. The owners have decided to remodel.
The first half of the film focuses on Mark's relationship with the Parrots and how he came to be their caretakers. He has a name for each one and gives the audience stories of how he's interacted with them. Included in these reminiscences, is general background information on bird life in San Francisco and the various theories on how these South American parrots came to exist in the Bay Area.
The second half of Parrots deals with the fate of the birds now that Mark has to vacate his small home for the last three years. Apparently, his care of the birds has attracted world wide attention, especially in Europe. There is never really any tension in the fate of Mark or the parrots since, as Mark points out, the birds are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. The viewer probably has a little less confidence in Mark though, as he says he has no idea what he will do.
What works so well in this film is Judy Irving's deft editing. We are constantly treated to the beauty and charm of the parrots themselves but not so much as to make it tedious. Irving seemed to sense just when to spend time on the people and less "bird time." I did find her own voice-overs asking Mark questions to be a little intrusive at times and she even introduces herself as the filmmaker in the beginning. There does seem to be a reason for this, however, at the end of the film. I think most of the audience will be charmed. I was.
My other choices at the theater, when I chose to see Irving's documentary, was a film about the last days of the Third Reich, children growing up in brothels, and an impoverished boy making a living in an underground fighting ring.
I think I made the right choice.
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill was refreshing.
This is a beautiful movie, a remarkable movie going experience. Mark Bittner is a man richer than Bill Gates & Paul Allen put together. His love for the parrots radiates through the movie. I was at a theater that was 90% full and the crowd was mesmerized, including some very young children. The movie is honest too, some of the birds die. The movie is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. It deserves to make a lot of money. Word of mouth has generated large audiences in Seattle and the movie has moved to different and larger venue. If only Hollywood could make movies half as good as this one. This movie will make you look differently at the animals in your life.
Days after seeing this film I am still moved by it. It is an
understatement to say that this film left a lasting impression on me.
Getting up close to the individual themselves, which all had such
distinct personalities and stories, changed the way I look at birds,
having always been somewhat afraid of them.
Mr. Bittner is an very intelligent man, deeply empathetic and self-aware. The way he handles his departure from Telegraph Hill is truly noble and self-sacrificing.
Highly recommended. Bring a tissue. The cinematography and photography is phenomenal - some impossible-seeming shots left my jaw on the floor. The the ending was a fantastic surprise!
I just saw this on April 28, 2005, in the theater, and it was great! It
was a last minute decision for us to go to the movies, and this was the
first film to begin since we arrived, so we picked it, just for the
heck of it. We had no idea what to expect, but both ended up loving it.
I actually almost cried once, but I won't give away the moment.
It has a great message, regarding how many people view animals incorrectly, thus, treating them inhumanely sometimes, even when they think they are treating them great.
I was told by the Producer/Director/Editor, Judy Irving, that it won't be out on DVD until early 2006, after the theatrical distribution is over.
Here is the website for the film. You can email them to be added to a list, so you will be notified of when the DVD is available. But if you have the chance, I highly recommend seeing it in the theater. They deserve the money and recognition from the box office sales, plus, seeing it on the big screen is much nicer, IMO.
It's like being friends to the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.
This documentary is made with lots of lovingness and doses of TLC (tender loving care).connecting with the birds - wild parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. It's nothing eccentric at all describing Mark Bittner 'talking' to the birds - in fact quite down to earth. We're fortunate that filmmaker Judy Irving shared this 'personal' documentary of Mark Bittner and his account/journal of his inter-activity with the parrots, even included honorable mentions of the specific parrots by name (on the advertising poster): Connor, Olive, Mingus, Picasso & Sophie, Pushkin, and Tupelo. It's a birds tale integrally told, and quite affecting and hopeful, in spite of the multiple arising difficulties to tackle and resolve.
This is a bird lovers must. A San Francisco city lover's treat. The official Web site 'wildparrotsfilm.com' is worth visiting, too, as it offers background information and pictures, like the story on how the music was scored by composer Chris Michie, and the film being dedicated to him, and how the theatrical Pelican Media release of the film is in conjunction with the publication of Bittner's book of the same name.
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