So many docs, so little time.

As a service to you, dear reader, I’ve been wanting to occasionally review classic or otherwise notable documentaries for some time now. I’m going to look back at these films with the hope that I can help guide you to select well-known documentaries that are worth seeing, long after they were released.

It’s not entirely an act of selflessness, I must admit. We all want to fill the gaps in our doc-viewing repertoires. I, for one, have been carrying such deep guilt about never having seen Frederick Wiseman‘s Titicut Follies, I can’t stand it any more. Having read countless essays and references to it, I feel like I know that groundbreaking film from 1967 like the back of my hand. But, for shame, I still haven’t seen it. Look for a review of it soon.

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph HilUntil then, I’m going to start with the unlikely The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill; the 2005 film is not a classic by any means, but it made such a huge splash — imore than $3 million at the box office, and I was always curious as to what the big fuss was about.

Let me start with a slight digression. At the end of Winged Migration, an even bigger bird-documentary phenomenon, which my wife and I had rushed to see in the theaters, I turned to her and said, “That was just a dumb movie about birds.” OK, so it was beautifully shot and had a cute French narrator, but, outside of the cameras-hooked-to-birds thing, it really didn’t offer much more than an episode of Nature.

So, my cards are on the table: I’m not a bird person. And while watching Wild Parrots, I was repeatedly reminded of that fact. In the documentary, as we get to know these San Francisco parrots who’ve been befriended by a long-haired, failed musician, I kept thinking, “What’s the big deal?” Matters weren’t helped by a cheesy electric guitar score, and the rather laborious metaphors: OK, I get it, the parrots are us and we are the parrots.

I’m not saying that I didn’t like Wild Parrots. It’s actually a good doc. The parrots are endearing and interesting as we follow their lives and relationships, and the little corner of San Francisco that’s revealed is equally charming. But that’s the problem with the film: it’s too enamored with its subject. And though I don’t want to give away a spoiler here, it becomes apparent by the end that director Judy Irving is indeed quite smitten with her subject.

Good for her. Good for bird lovers. Good for someone looking for a film with hokey charm. But the standard here is whether it’s worth taking an hour and half out of our busy lives to see the film. And with that in mind, Wild Parrots is not something I’d recommend.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen