Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Opposable Chums: A New Birding Film

Perhaps this is a sign that birding or bird watching has finally come of age. We're starting to see films being made about our hobby. And, the good news is, these films do not star Miss Jane Hathaway, Professor Pith-Helmet, or that crotchety old lady ornithologist from The Birds.

Enter: Opposable Chums: Guts & Glory at the World Series of Birding.

Filmmaker Jason Kessler is a successful videographer from New York. Although he has made other documentary films (including some award-winners), he makes his living creating films and videos for the fashion industry. Fashion industry? That should be an easy transition to filming birders....

Jason Kessler, fortunately, is one of us. He's a birder, too (and a rock musician, but that's a subject for another day). He set out to try to capture the essence of competitive birding by filming the participants in the grand-daddy of all North American birding competitions, the World Series of Birding.

I've watched the film through a couple of times now and am very impressed with its scope, with its fair treatment, and with its good humor. It lets the characters interviewed for the film be themselves. Kessler does not stoop to the tired clich├ęs about birding, nor does he fall under the spell of the event or its main players. He gives us an unvarnished look at several of the teams participating in the WSB, including some of the teams with no chance of winning, and the personalities associated with them. This is particularly refreshing because it helps to give a sense of why otherwise (mostly) normal people would subject themselves to 24 hours of birding.

Veterans of the birding scene will recognize many of the famous talking heads in Opposable Chums, including David Sibley, Kenn Kaufman, John Fitzpatrick, and Pete Dunne. The film also features some equally good birders with less of a Q-factor including Connecticut's Frank Gallo, The Cornell Lab's Kevin McGowan, and New Jersey's own Pat Sutton.

The camera work and editing in Opposable Chums is fantastic. Nothing kills a documentary film faster than a series of headshots of talking heads. Kessler avoids this pitfall with clever shooting and even more clever editing to keep the story moving when things aren't that visually exciting. There are even some scenes shot with dashboard-mounted cameras that reminded me of "Taxicab Confessions" from HBO. Birding as reality television.

One small quibble, though not with the film. We birders need to get a hobby-wide eyeglasses makeover. I think the last time I saw this many over-sized eyeglass frames was in an Elton John concert on VH1. Seriously, folks. Call your eye doc and make the appointment!

I won't give away all the details of Jason Kessler's film. It's a great take on competitive birding and a peek into the hearts and minds of some truly avid birders. It's entertaining enough to amuse non-birders, but unlike so many media depictions of our hobby/sport, this one won't make you cringe. It pokes fun, but does so lovingly.

You can view trailers on the film's website, and you can also order your very own copy.
I'll bet you'll watch it more than once. I did!

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At 11:16 PM, Anonymous Janet Creamer said...

I checked out the trailers-very interesting. But I never knew Sibley was a member of Sprockets...


At 8:20 PM, Anonymous RuthieJ said...

Wonder if someone well-known and with a lot of influence in the birding world could get them to come to West Virgina next spring to do a special screening??

At 2:24 PM, Anonymous OpposableChums said...

Ruthie, who could have more influence on a birder than a fellow birder? It sounds fun! Contact me if you'd like: [email protected]


At 1:00 AM, Anonymous Flu-Bird said...

Have you seen WINGED MIGRATION? realy exelent docmentry better then MICHEAL MOORES peice of crap BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Patrick Belardo said...

LOL @ the comment about the glasses from a former giant, aviator-glasses-wearing birder. I gave them up in 1996 though. I'm going to do a personal NJ birder census of this phenomenon. It's not quite at beard-wearing level, but I think it's prevalent.


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