Few have had as varied and rich a career as Jacques Perrin, whose resume includes appearing in and co-producing the classic political thriller Z for Costa-Gavras, making an extended cameo in the French potboiler THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, and making fascinating films in homage to the natural world. His MICROCOSMOS took the world by storm for its unconventional look at insect life and the same reception has greeted his latest film, WINGED MIGRATION, about the feathered population of our planet.
When I spoke with him on April 21, 2003 at the San Francisco International Film Festival, he was delightfully gregarious as we talked about the logistics of filming such a project and about the impact he would like his film to have on the people who see it.
You could be forgiven if see the previews of Jacques Perrins WINGED MIGRATION and conclude that this is just another well-produced documentary about our fine feathered friends.
Youd be so wrong.
This is to the nature documentary, even the finest ones that have found a home on PBS, what home movies are to CITIZEN KANE. Perrin, who brought us the equally remarkable MICROCOSMOS a few years back, has moved from insects to birds and created a film that is an expert blend of drama, humor, and poetry.
Using a spare narration and captions that serve only to set context, such as the fact that the arctic tern flies from pole to pole on its annual migration, Perrin immerses us in the aetherial realm of the feathered as no film has done before. Over three years, forty countries, and using 450 people divided into five separate film crews, he followed the annual migrations of birds for whom exhausting and dangerous thousand-mile migrations are the only route to survival. A variety of techniques, including hot air balloons and gliders give the stunning photography a startling intimacy, with birds on the wing mere inches from the camera, sometimes looking straight at it with an all too human mix of surprise and camaraderie. The long shots are no less beautiful, each one topping the next for inventiveness, artistry, and sheer scope. There are overhead shots of pure white whooping swans gliding over a lushly green river that reflects the clouds above, the impromptu and delicate ballet of cranes taking a break from their thousand-mile journey, and a formation of pelicans in close-up gliding nonchalantly above clouds that are roiling with lightning.