Review of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Review of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill Directed by Judy Irving
Rating ****

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

This documentary is about a flock of wild parrots who have taken up residence in San Francisco in an area known as Telegraph Hill. It is also about an unemployed man who takes care of the parrots and the relationship he has with the birds.

A friend of mine once owned two parrots. Their names were Tico and Taco. What I remember about them was that my friend's house was a disaster area. The birds had destroyed the blinds, carpet, and walls. I also remember the fondness my friend had for the birds. After watching this film, it's easy to see why.

The first ten to fifteen minutes of the film look and feel like a national geographic film on parrots. But as the film progresses, it becomes much more. It's about freedom — both for the birds and for Mark Bittner, the man who takes care of the birds. It's also about social status – both in the animal kingdom and in our own world.

The two stories — Mark's story and the Parrots' story — are expertly intertwined. There is conflict in both. The conflict in both stories involves survival.

The director, Judy Irving, somehow manages to bring images to every story and anecdote that Mark narrates. Whether the story came first and Judy found images to match, or the images came first and Mark narrated after the fact, makes little difference because they match up perfectly.

Mark, who had aspirations as a musician, befriended a couple who let him stay rent free in a small residence on Telegraph Hill. When the owners decide to renovate, they have no choice but to ask Mark to leave. What will happen to Mark? What will happen to the parrots? These are the questions that keep the viewer involved in the film. The resolution to these issues are unexpected but satisfying.

The DVD had a few extras including an update on the birds, but no audio commentary. I think they missed the boat on that one. This is one DVD that could have benefited from an audio commentary from both Judy and Mark. As a result they get four stars instead of five. Still, that's good enough for my best of 2009 list.

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