Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: Birders: The Central Park Effect (43/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

The watching of Winged Migration segued into the watching of another documentary about birds, but this time from a different perspective.

Jeffrey Kimball’s Birders: The Central Park Effect (2012) tells the stories of people who flock (sorry, had to) to Central Park each year to check out the birds there. During migrations in particular, the park plays host to about 25 percent of all the known birds in the United States and Canada. Birders, as these enthusiasts are called, come armed with binoculars and bird guides. They walk carefully through the park, listening for calls and watching for movement in hopes of seeing a new bird or an old favorite.

Interviewees attempt to explain why people become so intrigued with birding, as the documentary casts us viewers as doubters of why watching birds is so fascinating. The enthusiastic Chris Cooper describes birding as a “treasure hunt.” Sometimes the interviews deepen this doubt, however. Author Jonathan Franzen, probably the most recognizable name in the film, claims, “There’s no way to look cool.”

For other interviewees birding has a deeper meaning. Starr Saphir has been leading people on walks through the park for 30 years, and she keeps journals of all the birds she has seen during her lifetime. These journals hold lists of sightings, and the lists represent a collection for her. She finds solace in those lists as she lives with a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Kimball incorporates multiple shots of birds throughout the documentary and identifies a few. A seasonal structure and an infrequent voiceover keep this documentary moving. Despite the weight of Saphir’s diagnosis (she passed away in early 2013), Birders offers a light-hearted look at a very passionate group of people.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.
  • Mercedes Townsley

    We are well aware that movies can become way too explicit/horrific, its comforting to just take in a docmentary about real life concerns. I feel centered again.