Friday, February 5, 2010

Ghost Bird Movie

 Originally posted 4/17/2010 - backdated to organize posts by topic.

Ghost Bird is a documentary film by Scott Crocker about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker search in Arkansas that began in 2004.  The film makes its theatrical premiere in New York City, playing at 7:00 pm nightly from April 28 - May 4 at Anthology Film Archives as part of their For the Birds series of notable bird films.  Producer/Director Scott Crocker will be present for the Friday and Saturday screenings in NYC.

By far, my favorite element of the film was the interview footage with Mrs. Nancy Tanner, the wife of renowned Ivory-billed Woodpecker researcher Jim Tanner.  Mrs. Tanner comments on her experience observing Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the Singer Track in Louisiana before that magnificent old growth forest got transformed into a soybean field.  Her fascinating commentary is accompanied by old, black-and-white video footage of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in slow motion and scenes of Mrs. Tanner flipping through large-sized prints of photographs that are now familiar to many from her husband's study on the bird.  This part of the film best conveys the sheer sense of wonder in contemplating the largest woodpecker of the USA.

As the film progresses, the tension builds between believers of the bird's continued existence and the skeptics.  And then Ghost Bird quickly comes across as unbalanced.  To a degree uncertain, by sheer virtue of who did and who did not participate in the film, the skeptics have the stronger voice 

I would have liked to hear a few convincing Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings straight from the source.  Earlier this week, the Ghost Bird site had two clips available that detail Ivory-billed Woodpecker sightings.  The clips do not appear in the film, nor are they available at the site anymore.  The first clip was an interview with Mary Scott timed at 6 mins 50 secs long.  Mary Scott has a site called Birding America where she details the same 2003 Arkansas sighting that she described in the clip.  David Sibley is quoted in this clip as saying that:
"Just as a written description, I found her sighting most compelling of all of these.  She describes more than just he standard field guide description.  She adds a couple of details that really makes me think she saw it."  

The other clip is shorter and shows Timothy R. Barksdale, cameraman for Cornell's search effort and research associate, conveying a convincing sounding story to schoolchildren of his sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker flying down the main channel of the river that he was canoeing on before it veered off through the forest.  

Two other films on the same topic are Woodpecker (to me like a mini-Ghost Bird with a fun comedic, fictional twist) and The Lord God Bird (that I have not seen yet, and including participation by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Nature Conservancy).

There is a lot to enjoy in Ghost Bird.   It's got a cool soundtrack too.  If you've got the slightest interest in the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, go see it when you have the chance!


Mark said...

Your view of the film is a lot more charitable than mine. I think the imbalance reflected the director's bias and failure to do anything but credulously accept the statements of those he interviewed; many statements could and should have been challenged, regardless of who chose to participate.

Most revealing moment: ascribing "absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence" to Donald Rumsfeld. While he used the phrase, he certainly didn't coin it, and to imply that he did reflects either ignorance and incuriosity or an agenda.

Bill Benish said...

Thanks Mark. I enjoyed the film but wonder too what it might have been. It seems unfortunate to me that, for whatever reason, the two ivorybill sighting clips were not included in the final cut, etc.

Mark said...

Sad to say I didn't get around to watching those clips before they were pulled from the website.

My criticisms aside, even if the film had nothing else to redeem it, it would be worth seeing for Nancy Tanner alone. Her footage was riveting.

onthecoyle said...

Hi Bill. My guess about the "Ghost Bird" imbalance is that it sat in limbo for quite awhile waiting for some better IBWO documentation. When that didn't happen, the filmmaker went a different direction. Nevertheless, I liked it lot. It has a couple of dopey parts, and Tom Nelson as a hero of open science is downright stupid, but there's a lot that's entertaining.

Let us know if you discover "Lord God Bird" being shown around somewhere. I haven't seen it in two years, but I recall it's much more about the history of the bird and the searchers of it, while "Ghost Bird" is focused on Brinkley residents and skeptics.

John Dennis plays a big role in LGB, posthumously, and there are more interviews with Nancy Tanner. Lord God Bird is "fair", but I believe George Butler leans to the skeptic side. It's another film waiting for an ending.

Bill Benish said...

I'll keep an eye out for LBG. I'd like to hear more about John Dennis in that film. Cheers.

The whole truth said...

You guys are delusional about the current existence of the IBW. The "ending" came about in the 1940s, and no amount of interviews in a movie are going to bring back the IBW.

The whole truth said...

Convincing sightings?? That's a good one. LOL

There's nothing "convincing" about hearsay, unless you're totally gullible of course.

Bill Benish said...

Thanks for dropping by whole, etc.

Of course, you're entitled to your opinion. But lest you confuse anyone, I was not referring to any hearsay at all in my post.

unverified, unofficial information gained or acquired from another and not part of one's direct knowledge: I pay no attention to hearsay.

A first hand report of an ivorybill sighting is not hearsay. I consider Mary Scott and Tim Barksdale's sightings to be convincing based on the impression I got upon viewing the two clips when they were still recently available at the film's website.

A second hand report by a person who describes someone else's ivorybill sighting where that person was not also witness to it would be considered hearsay under common usage of that term.

The whole truth said...

Everything you "believers" rely on is hearsay. None of you have any actual proof of anything. Even the blurry videos are a form of hearsay. You hear someone say that the bird in a blurry video is an IBW and you automatically believe it, and then go on to promote that hearsay belief to any sucker who will listen. Same goes for the alleged IBW sounds that people have said they've heard and/or recorded. No one has any proof whatsoever that IBWs lived past the 1940s, at the latest.

Isn't it interesting that people manage to get good pictures or video of all the other Campephilus woodpeckers (except the Imperial which is likely extinct)? Oh wait, I forgot that the IBW is a wary ghost and can't be captured on cameras.

By the way, why do some of you say that the IBW is the largest woodpecker in North America? IF the Imperial still exists it is the largest. Mexico is in North America. Really it is.

Even when the IBW was still around it wasn't the largest woodpecker in NA. Since the IBW is extinct and the Imperial is likely extinct, the Pileated is the largest, unless of course a living Imperial turns up.

Oh, and your buddy cyberthrush is a liar. He said he wouldn't ban me from posting comments on his blog but then banned me the next day. I hope you're not a lying hypocrite like him.If all you guys want is *yes men* you should just spend all your time with cyberthrush, fangsheath, Collins, Hill, Harrison, Pulliam, and the other delusional believers and block your blogs to any realistic comments from anyone. Of course some of you are already doing just that.

One more thing; one of the main things science should be based on is skeptical inquiry (not delusional faith). You guys should try it sometime.

The whole truth said...

I just want to add that having a blog that informs and educates people about woodpeckers is a good thing, as long as the information is realistic and correct.

If more attention were paid to the woodpeckers and other birds that still exist, and less were paid to an extinct woodpecker, the ones that still exist would likely be more appreciated and a lot better off.

Bill Benish said...

Don't worry whole. Every little thing is gonna be alright. Really.

Jackson said...

@Whole truth-LOL tough guy on the internet, wonder how tough you are in real life. By the way, the proper acronym is IBWO, not IBW.

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