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Note: This post may contain spoilers.
While flipping through Netflix’s documentary offerings, I came across Winged Migration, which was directed by Jacques Perrin and released in 2001.
The cinematography in this documentary is stunning. Filmed over the course of four years, the cameras followed birds of many kinds and most continents through their seasonal journeys.
The documentary balances natural beauty and man-made places. The saturation of colors makes the fields the birds fly over seem surreal. Monument Valley is set against ribbons of colored sky. The filmmakers even catch a glacier calving.
Other familiar world monuments dot the landscape: the Great Wall, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty. A sadder shot shows the Twin Towers against the New York City skyline.
The documentary carefully balances the capturing of flocks of birds and the individual birds. They fly in enormous groups, but occasionally one bird gets caught or left behind. These individual stories show the impacts of people on these birds’ journeys. One caught in a net is freed. Another caught in factory pollution isn’t so lucky.
Other threats come from tractors and hunters. One shot shows a baby bird occupying a nest on the ground with a tractor coming for it. The next shot moves onto another sequence. Part of me wonders if the filmmakers saved the little bird from being run over or if they remained noninterventionist in their filming. (I hope for the former.)
Titles throughout the documentary introduce the different kinds of birds and detail their journeys in the different seasons. Sometimes, more specific locations would have helped. “Far East” seems too general a phrase to me for pinpointing on a map.
Overall, Winged Migration is a visually beautiful nature documentary whose spectacle requires little other intervention in telling its story.