June 7, 2013
American white pelicans at Pacheco Pond, Novato
I filmed some American white pelicans at Pacheco Pond a few weeks ago, thanks to a tip from John Christopher at DriveSavers. Their offices look out on Pacheco Pond, and they often see scenes like the one above. (DriveSavers recovered Pelican Media’s email database!)
30-million-year-old pelican beak fossil, found in France by N. Tourment and photographed by A. Louchart.
Pelicans evolved 30 million years ago, on every continent except Antarctica, and most of the species are white. Whites are bigger than browns, with wingspans up to 11 feet, weighing over 30 pounds. Possibly because they’re so large, they can’t do the high dive; only brown pelicans can. Browns weigh about 8-10 pounds, with wingspans up to 7 feet. Whites prefer freshwater fish, and browns prefer salt.
Screening: Our screening of the first half hour of the rough cut went well at the May 8th Marine Mammal Center members’-only event, also attended by Michelle Bellizi of International Bird Rescue (where Gigi recuperated).
Music: We’ve been working with Bruce Kaphan, accomplished pedal steel guitar player and composer, on the music, and now have nine cues in the movie, with more to come. The pedal steel has a smooth, dreamy sound that goes well with “Pelican Dreams.”
Funding: Assuming we can raise completion funds, we applied for a CA Coastal Conservancy grant to help distribute the film, starting next spring. Meanwhile we have proposals pending at several foundations, and are on the lookout for individual “Pelican Angels” who might fly in and help out….
April 16, 2013
Most brown pelican adults have flown south by now, and are breeding, laying eggs, and rearing chicks on protected islands in Baja and the Channel Islands. This breeding plumage adult was photographed by William Woodcock in the Berkeley Marina shortly before the bird probably migrated south.
note the lovely multi-colored pouch and blue eye
We’ve had two rough-edit screenings of the first half of “Pelican Dreams” over the past month: one at Ohlone Audubon, one at the Studio for Urban Projects — as well as a screening of the full rough cut at Haverford College in PA. Questionnaires were filled out by the large student/adult audience, and we’re now revising the edit based on that feedback.
It’s crucial to get audience responses before the film is released, so that it works for a large, general audience. Especially helpful is feedback related to areas that are confusing to first-time viewers. It’s quite easy to fix those spots. Structural issues also come up, such as how and when to include “troubles” that pelicans run into, and how to interweave scientific information with the more personal stories of individual pelicans. I love editing, so none of this is a chore; it’s a challenge, though!
February 17, 2013
Sadly for Morro, Oceano’s elbow injury had progressed too far, and he (Oceano) had to be euthanized. Morro awaits another companion…and I await the chance to film the resolution to his story.
Meanwhile I’ve been editing the rough cut, soliciting critique, and revising still more. I screened the first half-hour of these revisions at the Hillside Club in Berkeley on February 4th, and got very good feedback, so I think that section is working. Now I’m editing the last hour, prepping for a screening of the full rough cut at Haverford College on March 20th, where I’ll be doing a weeklong Artist’s Residency. After that will come the SF rough-edit screening.
Thanks to Tom and Kristi Cohen, Lorraine Grassano, and Judy Schultz for recent substantial individual donations to “Pelican Dreams,” and to Christine Joly for supporting our initial efforts in a big way.
My two previous feature documentaries will have screenings soon:
anti-nuclear activists look at Diablo Canyon, then under construction
Dark Circle at NYC MoMA
1982. USA. Directed by Judy Irving, Chris Beaver, and Ruth Landy. This chilling, but ultimately hopeful, film explores how all of us have been affected by the nuclear age. Denounced by officials and shunned by broadcasters when it was first released, many of the issues it raises have become today’s front-page headlines. Print courtesy of Oakland Museum of California. (POV) 82 min.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013, 4:30 p.m., Theater 1, T1
NYC MoMA, 11 West 53rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues
Wild Parrots Movie Poster
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill at the Cosmic Cine Film Festival in Switzerland and Germany
Zurich Switzerland: Friday April 12th at 4pm in Arena Cinemas Zurich.
Munich, Karlsruhe, Darmstadt and Bonn, Germany (four simultaneous screenings) Friday April 19th at 4pm in the following cinemas:
• Cinema: Mathäser Filmpalast / City: Munich http://www.cosmic-cine.com/info-und-tickets/kinos/mathaeser-filmpalast.html
• Cinema: Kinopolis / City: Bonn Bad Godesberg http://www.cosmic-cine.com/info-und-tickets/kinos/kinopolis-bonn.html
• Cinema: Citydome / City: Darmstadt http://www.cosmic-cine.com/info-und-tickets/kinos/citydome.html
• Cinema: Universum City Kinos / City: Karlsruhe http://www.cosmic-cine.com/info-und-tickets/kinos/universum-city-kinos.html
A link to a overview of all five locations: http://www.cosmic-cine.com/info-und-tickets/kinos.html
On April 26th at 8:13 pm there will be an Awards Gala in Mathäser Filmpalast in Munich.
December 11, 2012
The lucky young bird, Bodega (see photo in previous post), did heal up and he was able to fly away, so he’s a wild pelican out there somewhere on the Pacific coast right now. Another possible partner for Morro showed up fairly quickly at Pacific Wildlife Care, the rehab facility in Morro Bay. Oceano, named for the town where he was picked up, has a wing injury similar to Morro’s, and only time will tell whether it will be too painful for him to endure, or whether it will heal up enough that he could be pain-free. Several vets agree that his injury will not allow him to fly again. So the choices for Oceano are different from Bodega’s: not freedom versus captivity, but captivity versus euthanasia.
Blue-eyed Morro stares at brown-eyed Oceano. He seems interested in everything about the new arrival.
Maybe it’s the fact that they’re closer in age (Oceano is also an adult, a year or two younger than Morro), but the two birds immediately hit it off. I filmed their meeting, and was struck by how differently Morro treated Oceano compared to Bodega during those first few hours. There was no “hazing” from Morro – he let Oceano jump onto “his” perches, let him eat “his” fish. Morro even jumped up on a small perch to try to get as close as he could to Oceano. The perch was so small that he couldn’t balance there, so Dani set up another perch so the birds could be together. The jury is still out on Oceano’s elbow injury, but I’ve got my fingers crossed, once again, that Morro has found his friend.
Meanwhile I’ve been editing up a storm, and I now have a 92-minute rough cut that I’ll show to several friends and filmmakers to get feedback. The plan is to prep another rough-cut version for an early spring screening at a larger venue, soliciting feedback from you, my audience, so I can finalize the structure and story line of “Pelican Dreams.”
November 9, 2012
For the past couple of years Morro has been hanging out with 8 chickens, 2 geese, and a duck, but he hasn’t had a pelican buddy since Toro and Chorro flew away. That changed last week, when a young pelican named Bodega arrived with an injured wrist.
Young Bodega at the instant he noticed the camera.
The six-month-old pelican was found dumpster diving at a fish cleaning station in Bodega Bay, and later developed a severe wrist infection. He stayed for several months at International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, then was transferred to Dani and Bill’s backyard rehab facility via the SPCA in Monterey.
After a short hazing period in which Morro taught Bodega the rules of the bird yard (“That’s my perch! That’s my pool! That’s my bowl of fish!”), they are now fast friends. Bodega follows Morro everywhere. They preen, waddle, eat, and sleep near each other.
No one knows whether Bodega will someday be able to fly. If he does, great; if not, he will become an “educational pelican” like Morro and they will have each other. Part of me hopes, of course, that Bodega will fly free again. That’s what Dani and Bill want. Part of me, though, doesn’t want to see Morro disappointed and lonely again. Only time will tell.
October 10, 2012
There’s nothing like knowing you have to show your work in public to inspire intense editing focus. Our September 12th benefit screening of “Pelican Dreams” (work-in-progress) was well attended, raised funds for the San Francisco Green Film Festival, and helped kick the editing process into high gear. Although the film doesn’t yet have its complete ending because Morro’s story is still evolving, the overall structure is beginning to emerge. About 45 people attended the screening at the 9th Street Media Arts Center, and many provided helpful feedback, both during the Q&A and in writing via a questionnaire. This critique helps me see my blind spots as an editor, including items that are confusing, too long, or too short. During the screening I sat in the back of the room, could feel the audience’s “vibe,” and had lots of my own thoughts as to how the film could be improved. The process of editing and re-editing is ongoing, and we’ll schedule another rough-cut screening when the movie’s ending is complete.
Footage obtained from the BBC (slow-motion underwater dive shots), Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (horribly oiled pelican from the Gulf Spill), and from still photographers like Rob Bishop (see the pelican in the mouth of a whale! – this bird later escaped by floating out the side) and Stephen McLaren (white pelican “walking to work” in a British park, pictured earlier in this production blog) help tell the story. In some cases this footage was extremely pricey; in other cases it was donated. In all cases it was needed to fill gaps and to expand the visual palate of the movie.
pelican in the mouth of a humpback whale, photographed near Morro Bay by Rob Bishop
Morro, meanwhile, got a job! Dani Nicholson found out that as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, she was eligible to apply to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for an “education permit” for Morro. The process took six months, but she got her permit, and Morro has started making trips to campgrounds and other locales to wow attendees with up-close pelican experiences, probably closer than they’ve ever been to one. Here’s a shot of Morro near Morro Rock, with Morro Bay in the background.
Morro gets a job as an avian ambassador. He’s the first and only pelican working in “education” in California. Photo by Rob Bishop.
“Education” isn’t his favorite thing in the world to do – he’d rather be sitting on his lounge chair in the yard – but it’s required that a non-releasable migratory bird either be euthanized or licensed for education. An obvious choice! So now Morro has a good job and a wonderful place to live. All he needs is…..(you fill in the blank).
August 15, 2012
A new hour-long documentary film, Life With Alex, directed by Emily Wick and mentored by Judy Irving, will premiere September 20th. Starring Alex the famous African Grey Parrot, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, and Arlene Levin-Rowe, the film highlights the life and accomplishments of the bird who revolutionized traditional concepts of avian intelligence. See the trailer on YouTube.
August 10, 2012
These days I think about each documentary film shoot as a “rendezvous with destiny.” I might want one thing, but often, nature hands me something else. That’s what happened on our recent production trip to the Pacific Northwest, where I wanted shots of pelicans flying from the ocean to the Columbia River, the northernmost stop for many of them on their northward migration. I did get those shots, but Fate or the gods or whoever plans these things gave me two other sequences that I’ve been hoping to get for years.
We set up the camera on a wildlife viewing platform at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean the afternoon of July 24. It happened to be high tide, the sun was out, and small fish were schooling in the ocean near the platform. Hundreds of cormorants, Caspian terns, and pelicans were diving, eating, fighting, resting, flying – the feeding frenzy I’ve wanted for years! We got some nice slow-motion footage of pelicans literally dropping from the sky like rain. It’s hard to pull a good still photo from this footage, because the magic is in the motion, but here’s one anyway.
The next morning we set up on the same platform in completely different conditions: low tide, grey skies, no fish, no feeding frenzy, BUT there were surfers and a paddle boarder heading out into the waves, and lines and lines of pelicans flying north. I was able to get my longed-for surfing sequence that day, completely unexpectedly. It looks like a ballet.
June 26, 2012
Although some of “our” brown pelicans are born and raised in California’s Channel Islands, most of them come from Baja, Mexico. In May I filmed their nesting islands in the Sea of Cortez, where Dr. Dan Anderson and Mexican colleagues counted pelicans of all ages. Thousands of them lined the shore, hundreds bathed in the coves, scores looked down at our boat from the ridge lines. It felt truly prehistoric.
The islands of San Lorenzo and Guardian Angel are a “pelican’s dream” — the birds are generally unmolested by humans, unperturbed by predators, and in a good year, never get too hungry, because of healthy anchovy runs. These strange and exotic scenes could have taken place millions of years ago, and in fact I will probably use them to illustrate pelicans’ lives before they came in contact with humans.
Because I accompanied a scientific census expedition, I also filmed the biologists’ activities. Dan Anderson has been coming to these islands for over 40 years, keeping track of Baja’s brown pelican population, and it is largely because of him that we can make factual statements such as “they fly from Baja to British Columbia” (radio telemetry), or “the numbers in Baja have stayed about the same, while the Channel Islands pelicans nearly went extinct” (due to DDT).
Science focuses on overall animal populations rather than individual birds, and data collection can sometimes appear to be a bit invasive. The biologists weighed pelican chicks by hanging them upside down from a strap attached to a scale. Dan says it’s like getting a shot at the doctor’s office; it’s annoying, but it’s over quickly and it’s beneficial. On this trip, they weighed and measured about 50 chicks out of thousands, and will extrapolate how well they’re growing this year from that data.
Surprisingly, after the chicks endured being held upside down they sometimes stayed close by. It was so hot, they preferred the shade of a human to immediate escape. So I guess the annoyance was in fact temporary. Here’s a young bird standing next to Dan, who had to be gently pushed away after awhile.
June 26, 2012
All hell broke loose when the herring started spawning along the Sausalito shoreline in mid-January, with gulls, pelicans, and fishermen vying for the same catch. Here’s a shot of 2 pelicans acting like fishermen, pulling up the net! It was hard to extract the herring, but now and then one pulled loose. The fishermen got by far the most fish. Competition for herring and sardines is getting worse, with the pelicans losing out to commercial fishermen.
Two trips to the Channel Islands in February and March resulted in a Valentine’s Day sequence of pelicans building nests and mating at Cat Canyon on Santa Barbara Island, and a sequence with Laurie Harvey counting nests from a zodiac near Frenchy’s Cove, at Anacapa. Laurie manages to fit pelican nesting surveys in with 11 other species she’s keeping track of, including Xantus’ murrelets and ashy storm petrels, who nest in sea caves and rock crevices.
Back in San Francisco in mid-March, I screened almost an hour of rough-edited clips to 90 people at a packed Audubon event, and got good feedback. Although this was not an official rough-cut screening, the first third of the movie has a basic structure now, and the screening helped me conceptualize how “Act II” should develop. I’ve been enjoying the editing process, benefiting from all the logging and transcribing that came before.