I Just Saw the Lord God Bird!
To assuage my strange obsession with this bird, I made the 167-mile round trip from the hills and hollers of Appalachia to the affluence of down-town Silver Spring, Maryland, last evening to see George Butler’s documentary film, The Lord God Bird (A Film in Progress), which was shown as part of the 15th annual DC Environmental Film Fest (EFF).
In stressing that this is “a film in progress” I think Butler is holding out hope that he will soon be able to end the documentary on a positive note (i.e., with a definitive photograph or video clip of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker from this century). He remarked that another 50 minutes will be added to film before it is released in the fall.
In its current rendition, the film ends with two text slides (and I paraphrase here):
Skepticism about the rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker still persistsFirst Impressions: I was very impressed with the quality of the film, but won’t go into detail so as to not spoil it for those who have not yet seen it. I thought John Dennis Jr. did an admirable job of defending his oft-maligned father; Gene Sparling comes across as honest, sincere, and very likeable; and Nancy Tanner is utterly charming, entertaining, and knowledgeable.
But so does faith . . .
Characters Who Appear in the Film: Arkansas duck-hunting guide (whose name I forget), Lucas Behnke, Russell Chariff, John Dennis Jr., John Fitzpatrick, Tim Gallagher, Bobby Harrison, Jamie Hill, Martjan Lammertink, Gale Norton, Richard Prum, Scott Simon, Gene Sparling, Nancy Tanner, Dennis Widner. My apologies to anyone I might have forgotten (and I’m quite sure there are a few).
Characters Absent From the Film: Jon Andrew, Geoff Hill, Jerry Jackson, David Luneau, David Mennill, Tom Nelson, Van Remsen, Ron Rohrbaugh, Ken Rosenberg, Mary Scott, David Sibley.
Poignant Moment of the Film: Bobby Harrison becoming very emotional and almost crying in the middle of describing his first encounter with the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (in the company of Tim Gallagher).
Light-Hearted Moment of the Film: In describing her courtship with husband-to-be James Tanner, Nancy Tanner says, “I just chased Jim until he finally caught me.”
Skeptical Moment of the Film: In expressing her personal skepticism about John Dennis’s sighting in the Big Thicket of Texas in the 1960s (which James Tanner investigated without being able to obtain confirmatory evidence) Nancy Tanner remarks, “You can see what you want to see, you know what I mean?”
Crass Political Moment of the Film (and one I could have done without): A brief clip of Gale Norton, former Secretary of the Interior, making her remarks at the April 2005 “rediscovery” announcement.
Gratuitous Vulgar Moment of the Film: At one point, Fitzpatrick is show talking to team members who are off camera. He relates listening to tapes of putative double-knock calls from the White River in which an on-site investigator can be heard whispering in the background, “Where the f..k is that bird?” I don’t know if that scene was staged or real, but it was apparently inserted to illustrated the frustration experienced by the Cornell team. I viewed it as gratuitous and inappropriate vulgarity, considering that this film will be viewed by young children all across the country (in fact, there were a few in the audience last night), but it did draw a chuckle from the crowd.
Oops! Moment of the Evening: In introducing director George Butler, John Fitzpatrick remarked about how grateful he was that a filmmaker of his caliber had approached Cornell about making a movie on the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. In his introductory remarks, Butler pointedly contradicted Fitzpatrick. Saying that Fitzpatrick’s story “wasn’t quite the way it happened,” he countered that it was, in fact, Fitzpatrick and Cornell (and probably The Nature Conservancy) who had approached him about doing the documentary.
Jaw-Dropping Remark of the Evening #1: In a question-and-answer session after the movie, James Tate Jr.,
Jaw-Dropping Remark of the Evening #2: Responding to a question from the audience, George Butler hinted that there might be 25 nesting pairs of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers along the Choctawhatchee River in Florida.
Clueless Remark of the Evening: While standing in a crowd of peopled that gathered in the lobby of the theater waiting for an earlier movie to let out, I overheard a woman remark to her husband as the couple thumbed through a program for the EFF, “Oh, it IS a woodpecker.”