The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Film, Documentaries
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Time Out says

Irving’s charming, illuminating and sometimes very moving documentary might initially sound as if it’s a study in eccentricity: its protagonist, Mark Bittner – a failed would-be rock musician now famous in certain circles as the fellow who looked after the flock of feral South American parrots often seen flying around San Francisco – would seem to have all the qualifications for being at best an oddball, at worst a true fruitcake.

But look more closely, as Judy Irving does, and the homeless, hirsute man from Seattle who hit the city of Ginsberg and Corso some decades ago comes into clearer focus: in many ways he’s just another birder, and just another inhabitant of the loveliest, looniest, most laidback and liberal community on the West Coast.

The film is a bit new agey, not least in the way it manipulates Bittner’s tale of how he came to care for parrots Mingus, Picasso, Sophie and Connor – the last a blue-head on the fringes of the cherry-headed flock – into a touchy-feely confessional full of surprise twists, suspenseful hesitations and life-or-death drama.

What stops it from all becoming too anthropomorphic is Bittner’s self-awareness about his interpretation of the birds’ behaviour, coupled with his insistence that they – like the red-tailed hawks hungrily soaring above – are wild rather than tame or domesticated. Irving knows that too, and while her drip-drip storytelling methods bring to mind the artifice of a thriller or tearjerker, she mainly steers clear of cute – predictable final shot notwithstanding. Very engaging all round.

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Details

Release details

Rated:
PG
Release date:
Friday December 9 2005
Duration:
83 mins

Cast and crew

Director:
Judy Irving