The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Documaker Judy Irving ports her camera and crew to the wild country of San Francisco and visits self-taught parrot expert Mark Bittner as he tends a flock of mostly Cherry-headed conures (a species of parrots) that have taken up residence in that city as “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.” Robin: Bittner was a homeless musician who relocated to San Francisco to find fame and fortune but things didn’t turn out quite that way. Instead, he fell in with a flock of wild parrot that came together from a myriad of places unknown. The musical, self-proclaimed dharma bum” (a homeless seeker of truth) took, at first, to feeding the colorful birds but, as the years passed, became an integral part of their little world, even nursing sick birds back to health. Documentor Irving uses Mark Bittner’s book, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, as the basis for this insightful look into a wild aviary world, little known but thriving on the city’s heights. As Mark tells his story, he is surrounded by his feathered wards as they perch upon his head, shoulders and arms, feeding on his cup of sunflower seeds, as he tells their story. Bittner began what would become his all consuming passion when he noticed, years before, wild parrots coming to feed on his terrace. Slowly and carefully, he moved closer and closer to the birds until, one day, he held out a handful of food and, with great patience, waited for something to happen. Eventually, one parrot, then several, began to feed from his hand. As the years passed, the flock grew more comfortable with Mark’s presence and began to treat him as one of their family. Per Bittner, his flock (there are two in the city, now) numbers about 45 members, with each having a name and, as the story unfolds, a unique personality. The majority of the flock is made up with the Cherry-headed conures and you get to know some of them individually. Whereas the norm for the parrots is to want out when inside, one of them, named Mingus, wants nothing more than to stay inside with Mark. Picasso and Sophie are an affectionate pair of birds with diminutive Sophie caring for her big lug, Picasso. Pushkin and Olive are a troubled couple where the former was forced to “divorce” his mate because of Olive’s destructive behavior. Then there is the heartbreaker of the tragic life of little Tupelo – his story, literally, brought tears of sorrow to my eyes. The most prominent of the parrot players in Bittner’s little flock is a Blue-crowned conure dubbed Connor. Bittner tells how the little blue head was one of the founding “fathers” of the flock and, he guesses, could be 14 or more years old. Whereas the majority of the flock is made up with excitable, hot-tempered Cherry-heads, Connor is cool and reserved, not given to emotional outbreaks. You get to know the taciturn bird and really see his reserved manner, especially opposite the feisty majority. Be warned: the emotional involvement you build up for this little guy is palpable. Judy Irving couples the story of Mark and his wild parrots with bits of San Francisco color and background, from an old recording of beat poet Jack Kerouac singing “Ain’t We Got Fun” to the hearing by the city manager over the fate of the parrot flocks. (They are thriving and can take very good care of themselves, FYI.) A documentary film that can affect you, emotionally, and get you to invest your feelings in a flock of wild birds (and their friend and keeper, Mark Bittner) is a real accomplishment. “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” is a satisfying docu that keeps your heart and mind completely enthralled. I love San Francisco and now have yet another reason to visit that hilly town. I give this one an A-.

Laura's Review: DNS


Robin's Review: C

The Wild,” in addition to lion cub Ryan’s desire to find his roar, starts out, when the last of the tourists and keepers leave for the day, with the denizens of the Bronx Zoo taking over the place. The big event that all the animals attend is a curling contest between the penguins and Samson and his team – a street-wise New York squirrel named Benny (Jim Belushi); the zoo’s merchandise star, a koala called Nigel (Eddie Izzard); the quick-witted and pragmatic giraffe, Bridget (Janeane Garofalo; and, the slow-witted but willing 21-foot long anaconda, Larry (Richard Kind). This portion of “The Wild” has nothing to do with the story and eats up a considerable amount of the film’s 85-minute run time. Once this extended bit is finished, “The Wild” finally gets to its point. Ryan, wanting to return to his dad’s roots, gets out of the zoo and falls asleep in an animal-shipping container on the lot next door. Samson, when he realizes his son is missing, goes into a panic and frantically searches for his cub. He locates the boy but is too late as he helplessly watches the container get hauled away. Samson may be king of the zoo but he is woefully unprepared to go into the city to find his boy. Benny, the street-savvy squirrel, steps in and, with the help of some local pigeons, finds out where the container is heading – to the docks to be shipped back to Africa. Samson and his team set off across the city to save Ryan before the ship sails. But, again, they are too late as they watch the freighter, with the container on board, pull away from the dock. Ever resourceful, Samson and the rest take over a tugboat and set off in pursuit. The chase will take them all the way to Africa. Further adventures ensue when a gang of wild wildebeests decides, at their leader Kazar’s (William Shatner) insistence, that they stop being prey and become predators, endangering Ryan and Samson’s lives. As I watched “The Wild,” especially hearing Keifer Sutherland give voice to Samson (he channels Albert Brooks), all I could think of was the far superior Finding Nemo (2003).” A father’s search for his missing son is the same premise for both animation features but the earlier film benefited from much better, more imaginative writing (by animation veteran Andrew Stanton who penned such other great anime as Toy Story,” Toy Story 2” and “Monsters, Inc.” and also directed “Nemo”). With “The Wild,” visual effects supervisor Steve “Spaz” Williams (“Spawn,” “The Mask,” Terminator 3”) takes the helming reins but lacks the story telling skills to engross the viewer. The result is a film that will appeal to younger kids but fails to reach that important demographic, “for all ages.” Having a visual F/X guy at the helm does make for an interesting film to look at. ”The Wild” does a credible job in creating detailed, though cartoon-like, creatures – and there are a lot of them – that look great. Unfortunately, the story, by a slue of writers (Ed Decter, Mark Gibson, Philip Halprin and John J. Strauss), feels like it was done by a committee and has few laughs. (Well, maybe a chuckle or two but not much more.) I found myself sitting, stone faced, as the “jokes” fell flat, making “The Wild” seem far longer than it is. The talents giving voice to all the critter in “The Wild” is impressive but has some problems. Keifer Sutherland and Greg Cipes, the most prominent voices in the film, lack any luster in their characters. Both are overshadowed by the sidekick voices by Garofalo, Izzard, Kind and Belushi, who do their best with the weak dialog and weaker jokes. Patrick Warburton gives distinctive and amusing voice in the relatively small role of Blag, Kazar’s lieutenant. The Wild” is the kind of film that is better left to video rental. It lacks the charm and humor of the other CGI animations mentioned and only the kids will take to it. My recommendation? Watch “Finding Nemo” again.