Directed by: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats
Released: June 19, 2003
Grade: B

Documentaries are born out of love for the subject material.  Nothing it is scripted and it is up to the cameraman to find the drama.  Hundreds of film reels are used and all you can do is hope that you find what you’re looking for.

Travelling Birds is the apt title for this project headed by Frenchman Jacques Perrin.  Five film crews followed migrating birds across seven continents over a three year period.  To raise his documentary to a new level, Perrin has used camera techniques.  To create the incredibly close shots of the birds as they fly overhead, a camera has been attached to a remote controlled bird which flies within the pack.  In other scenes, a cameraman sits in a glider which flies above.  Even helicopters, delta planes, ultra light motorized aircraft and balloons are used to get the perfect shot of the winged creatures.

It’s beautiful to watch but I was disappointed by what I learnt from it all.  There is little narration and the bulk of the film is just the birds flying with soft music (composed by Bruno Coulais) echoing in the background.  There are some spectacular single camera shots and some very colourful species of birds to admire but I would have preferred more education.  More discussion was needed on why the birds acted as they do.  Further, a few silly special effect shots looking down on the globe were an unwanted distraction.

Whilst I criticise these elements of the film that didn’t personally please me, I point out that it was always Perrin’s intention to have the film rely on visual images rather than spoken words.  One of his previous documentaries, Microcosmos, was very similar in the way it looked at the insect world.  In his own words, “Man has dreamt of birds since the beginning of time.  How to imagine being among the first to transform this dream into reality?”  There is no question that he has provided this reality.

Funded by a number of production companies, including National Geographic (as you’d expect), Travelling Birds received a nomination for best documentary at this year’s Academy Awards.  Despite losing the top prize to Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine, the film has generated world wide interest.  Unlike most feature length documentaries, which debut on cable television, Travelling Birds has been released theatrically in over 20 countries around the world (including France, Russia, Italy, Spain, Japan, Canada and the United States).  If nothing else, it’s void of clichés, and if you look at what else is currently screening, it’ll be the only film in that category.