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Film Review

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

(March 6, 2005) Hi, Who could imagine a film about a flock of parrots that is compelling and revealing about humans? Judy Irving, a local documentary film maker, has looked closely at the parrots and the man who cared for them for seven years. Mark Bittner, came here in 1990 as a musician, but didn't make it in the music scene. He moved into a tiny, ramshackle cottage on the Greenwich steps, where he was able to live rent free for those seven years, thanks to his generous landlords. He began to notice the parrots, and began a relationship with this flock of cherry headed conures that changed his life. He began to feed them, care for them when they were sick, congratulate them when they had babies, and grieve for them when they died. These are wild birds, yet perch on him, take food from his mouth, and perform the cutest and silliest antics. Each bird has a distinct personality, and Mark gives them all names. Mingus, his favorite, keeps time with his head as Mark plays jazz. Connor, a older, dignified, blue headed conure has a special bond with Mark. Connor once had a mate, but is now alone, and doesn't quite fit into the cherry headed flock.

Mark becomes an expert on these birds, and is able to watch them socialize in a way that few scientists have done. He begins to record his observations. All this time, Mark does not have a job, yet somehow is able to buy big sacks of sunflower seeds and medicine for the parrots. The film maker records Mark's interactions with the birds, and his interactions with real North Beach characters. Mark is unfailingly good natured, rarely complaining, and becomes a St Francis of Telegraph Hill, so appropriate in a city named for the saint. Early in the film Mark is asked when he will cut his pony tail. He says when he finds a girl friend. So his relationship with Connor is probably more than he realizes. I don't want to say more, but this relatively short (84 minutes) film engages in every way every minute, and there are surprises. The camerawork is outstanding, but this really needs to be seen on the big screen because of the many amazing close-ups. Wild Parrots is also a rarity in that children, as well as adults, will love it. And perhaps learn to live life more fully. Playing at the Embarcadero.

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