Judy Irving, the filmmaker behind the sublime 2005 documentary “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” returns to the subject of Bay Area birds with this new feature-length nonfiction study of California’s pelican population. Inspired by an offbeat news story of an injured pelican that shut down traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, Irving details the various challenges that have threatened the pelican population and the resilience of these birds to maintain their existence.
As with her earlier documentary, Irving captures avian life with extraordinary cinematography. Indeed, the pelicans in flight are among the most beautiful images captured on screen this year. And the sequences of the pelican habitat in California’s Channel Islands – where an absurdly high infant mortality rate and seemingly bizarre behavior by many young pelicans is considered normal – are truly invigorating.
But at 80 minutes, the film eventually wears out its welcome due to Irving’s insistence on capturing the allegedly colorful lifestyle of the wildlife rehabilitation experts trying to help the pelicans. And Irving’s insistence on inserting herself into the proceedings with cutesy commentary on her own alleged affinity with pelicans adds little value. Nonetheless, the filmmaker’s passion for her subject is often contagious, and this celebration of the California ecosystem is recommended for lovers of nonfiction nature flicks.