[va-richmond-general] HBO movie on birding
- From: "Kathleen Kreutzer" <k-kreutzer@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- To: <va-richmond-general@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 16 Jul 2012 18:02:43 -0400
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/arts/television/birders-the-central-park-e ffect-on-hbo.html For those with access to HBO, this movie about urban birding might be of interest! Kathy Kreutzer Chesterfield July 13, 2012 Film Subjects That Keep Flying Away By ELIZABETH JENSEN JUST after 7:30 a.m. on an April Saturday in the northern end of Central Park cellphones begin to ring and text alerts chirp. There's a rare prothonotary warbler in Wildflower Meadow. Someone has seen a blue grosbeak. An orange-crowned warbler has been heard trilling overhead. Packs of birders, as they call themselves, charged from spot to spot, high-powered binoculars in hand, smartphones in their pockets (apps having replaced heavy field guides of the past). It was the high-migration season, and no one wanted to miss a sighting. Except that some in the crowd don't see them all; the birds flitting high in the leaves and scuffling in the underbrush often prove faster than the humans racing after them. That's just one of the many reasons filming birds is frustratingly difficult. But the director and birder Jeffrey Kimball has patience. Over four years he used a variety of cameras, lenses and maneuvers to track his subjects - both the 200 or so Central Park birders and their elusive prey - for his hourlong documentary "Birders: <http://www.hbo.com/documentaries/birders-the-central-park-effect/index.html > The Central Park Effect," which HBO will show beginning Monday. The birds - 117 species in all - get their own credits in the film, in order of appearance, starting with a double-crested cormorant and ending with a hooded warbler. HBO, not normally given to nature films unless grounded in a social issue, bought this one after its South by Southwest film festival debut this year. "I think the cinematography struck us, and the charm of the world that these birders were inhabiting, that was right in our own backyard," said Sara Bernstein, vice president for HBO Documentary Films. Mr. Kimball also impressed many of the Central Park birders, including Starr Saphir <http://starrtrips.wordpress.com/blog/> , one of the characters in Mr. Kimball's film, who has been leading bird-watching tours in the park, spring and fall, for three decades. "Other photographers have at times been a problem," she said, "but he never got in the way because he's a birder himself." "And he's a really good birder," added Ms. Saphir, who gently admonishes birders who point at birds, and worries that long lenses and even binoculars can scare them away. In each case any movement can be a problem. The film is Mr. Kimball's feature directorial debut. Early on, he made some short films and worked on features and documentaries as cameraman, sound man and editor, but he has spent most of his career as a music supervisor for films, including "Good Will Hunting." He came to birding gradually - partly because of a chance sighting of a black-crowned night heron on the Central Park Lake - once he realized that he didn't have to leave the city to look at nature. "There's something thrilling about knowing that all these wild animals are right here," he said in a ramble through the park on a muggy morning in late May. As he got more deeply involved with birding and Central Park birders, Mr. Kimball saw obvious film potential, he said, but he didn't want to replicate a film he had seen that "had a lot of people talking about bird-watching but didn't have very many pictures of birds." So for two years he went to the park three or four times a month with his $2,300 Sony high-definition video camera, searching out the birds. After he hit what he called a "critical mass" of bird shots and had begun interviewing the birders (who included the novelist Jonathan <http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/27/scanning-the-central-park-sky- with-jonathan-franzen/> Franzen), he decided the bird pictures weren't as good as he wanted. So he went back for another round of avian photography, using rented $20,000 lenses and a better camera. A nonbirding editor nixed some of those hard-won shots. A rare salt marsh sharp-tailed sparrow? It ended up on the cutting room floor because visually it was just "a little brown bird, not very big, on the brown lawn," Mr. Kimball said. There were other shots he didn't get, like the one of the black skimmer that came swooping in over a mirror-still Turtle Pond. The odds being what they are, he said, he doesn't fret much about what he missed. "All the elements of photography conspire against bird cinematography," he said. Because birds are so small and often in shadow, photographers have to use a long lens with the shutter opened as wide as possible, creating a short depth of field. As a result "the birds are constantly moving in and out of focus," he said. Getting good photographs of birds, Ms. Saphir agreed, "takes hours and hours and days and months." "The light and shadow that you have to be aware of for any picture," she continued, "it's that much more when you're photographing something like this with the three-dimensionality to it, which is constantly moving, and these birds are almost constantly moving, at least their heads." Mr. Kimball employed a few standard tricks, like setting up his cameras at watering holes the birds are known to frequent, and focusing on a branch they were almost certain to alight on just before they hopped in the water. And he hung out at sites where he could catch the birds with Midtown's buildings in the background. Some of the audio that accompanies the birds was added later. Mr. Kimball said he has heard criticism from birders who think the film makes bird-watching seem easier than it is. He concedes that he condensed time but said, "I'm not going to show you a lot of blank trees with no birds in them." Ms. Saphir is not one of those critics. "I have two children who are nonbirders," she said. "I knew they were going to see it and it was going to make them understand about birding." She added, "It's going to make a whole lot of other people who don't look at birds as a regular part of their lives understand a little bit more about what we do and more importantly why we do it." This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: July 16, 2012 An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified the black and white warbler as a northern mockingbird, and the gray catbird as a black and white warbler.
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