Meet the Parrots

Columbus Alive | August 11, 2005
As Judy Irving’s film takes off, its quaint music and graphics recall a simpler time for documentaries, when they were mostly relegated to PBS, but they form a quick intimacy that works well for her subject, a flock of about 50 wild parrots flying over San Francisco and the man who cared for them.

Mark Bittner drifted to the city as a musician and spent over a decade on the street. In feeding and studying the cherry-headed conures, whose backgrounds are the stuff of urban legend, Bittner found his calling, as well as the support of his community in the form of free food and rent (he claims not to have paid rent in 25 years).

From footage shot over four years, Irving crafts a sweet but strong portrait of someone who aims to stake a place between the hippies and the beats, hanging out with the birds and witnessing nature’s beauty and its cruelty (hawks also reside in San Francisco) up close.

And then there are the parrots, always free as Bittner repeats, and as they make clear by flying off in a sudden flurry. A few of the more interesting specimens are profiled, such as Mingus, the homebody who bites at Bittner’s toes, and Connor, the one blue-crowned conure. At one point he sidles up to a single female, cueing a switch to slow motion and romantic music.

Is this a real connection between the birds, or just Bittner and Irving’s anthropomorphic projection? A bit more ornithological perspective wouldn’t have hurt, but Bittner and the birds win you over regardless, long before the film’s surprising, endearing end.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
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