Overview: Ah, the most lighthearted documentary in the lineup I suspect and it takes us right into the heart of the urban jungle. If you didn’t know Central Park is a magnet for millions of birds who need a rest stop as they migrate along the Eastern Seaboard twice a year, in spring and fall. Awaiting them is an avid and eager mass of fanatic birdwatchers. Together, avian and hominid co-exist in this 843-acre plot to the delight of both.
Expectations: Off the bat I was curious about the title of this film. What exactly does it mean? Is it just a clever phrase to describe bird watching in the grand old park? I guess it would sound boring if it was just called “Bird Watchers in Central Park” but, I put the phrase through a search anyway to see if there was something more to it. No hits beyond just the links to this documentary. Then, I perused the press release and I got my answer. According to scientists birds find the park as an oasis on the landscape and migratory birds have made this destination a consistent stop over locale before moving on and this situation has been labeled the Central Park Effect.
Upon unraveling that mystery I now expect a more through explanation of the CP Effect in the film. I also expect not a flat out nature documentary about the species that abound at the park but more about the fascination people have with connecting with nature even in the heart of a city.
Gut Reaction: This is a no-brainer for me. I totally get what this documentary is about and the message it leaves for I am married to an avid Birder myself. Everything stated in this documentary about what it means and feels like to be a birder is true. One bit I liked was birder Chris Cooper’s list of seven (7) benefits for being an avid avian watcher. As a strong nature lover myself I can appreciate the need to connect with the natural world and witness the cycle of life happening all around. This documentary hits the mark when explaining the fascination people hold for nature.
What missed the mark clearly were my expectations for this film. I tried to read too much into the title’s meaning for one. Since the term Central Park Effect was defined in a mere sentence of two the intent of Birders: was not to give a scientific explanation of the effect but more to create an interesting title to the piece. I also suspected that the piece was going to lean more towards the human’s reasoning for pursuing the activity and not much of a nature documentary as you would find on Nat Geo Wild or Animal Planet. The work did prove, however, to pay quite a bit of attention to the objects of everyone’s attention. The filmmaker, Jeffrey Kimball, captured beautiful images of warblers, swans and even a wild turkey. Plus, every bird captured on film made it into the cast list in the end credits!
The human element was also equally represented here. One of the most familiar faces in Central Park is Star Saphir. She is credited with being the unofficial “matriarch of Central Park” as she has led birding tours for decades. Her story is an interesting one as her life revolves around the birds she watches. All in all, the film balances out nicely between the interviews with people and the quiet moments of gazing at the colorful feathered friends they meet. It was all a joy to watch.
In Conclusion: This documentary was a nice addition to the line-up this summer. It reminds us that not all films have to be about the dark nature of human behavior; the social ills of society or about a debatable issue. It is simply about humans need to connect to nature and the easy access bird species give us into that world – even in the man-made environment called Central Park.
If you have missed any of the films in this summer series, which premiere Monday nights, then get to HBOGo and enjoy them; then get right back here to HBOWatch and let us know what you thought.