The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

Rated G 2005

This warm, intelligent documentary is deceptively modest. It purports to tell the simple tale of an off-the-grid eccentric (San Franciscan Mark Bittner) and his relationship with a flock of wild, non-native parrots, mostly cherry-headed conures that he feeds and studies. Instead, with no fuss at all, Wild Parrots delves into deep and meaningful territory, including questions of life choices, interspecies communication, and Buddhist views of existence and spiritual connection. Bittner is a charming man, with a soft heart and a gentle touch, and director Judy Irving captures him with a calm and patient lens. The parrots are gorgeous, endlessly amusing with their sharp and quirky personalities; Bittner sees them more as monkeys than birds. And their stories -- of life and death in the wild -- are surprisingly affecting. At times, the soundtrack dips into sentimentality, and the slo-mo lays the emotion on a bit too thickly, as when a fledgling first takes flight. But those faults are rare. Mostly, Wild Parrots is a great, important, and unforgettable movie.

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