A few years back the worlds of science and bird watching became all atwitter with the rediscovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, a species thought to have become extinct in the 1940’s. A small town in Arkansas had several residents who claimed to see the mysterious bird although no one had been able to capture it on film or video. Thus the rush was on as bird watchers from all around the world flocked to Arkansas to try and be the first person to document the elusive Ivory Billed Woodpecker.
Joining in on the fun, director Alex Karpovsky takes two oddballs, Jon E. Hyrns and Wesley Yang, and sets them in the middle of the flurry of activity as they too become bird watchers looking for fame and fortune on the wings of the woodpecker. The results are hilarious. While it’s extremely easy to sit back and kind of, poke fun at Hyrns and Yang as they bumble through the Arkansas bayou, butter up locals for more information and sink deeper into an obsession to find the bird, there’s also some very deep emotional beats in the film as well as a very clever play on the whole fact or fiction aspect of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker.
“Woodpecker” is a hybrid of documentary and fictional narrative, but it’s often hard to tell when you’re seeing one or the other. Rather than try and figure it out, it’s better just to go along for the ride. I love the way Karpovsky explores the angles on the discovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker (namely is this all a hoax or has the bird really made a comeback?) yet his choice to blend fiction and non-fictional elements into the film plays into that idea brilliantly. For as much uncertainty as there is around the exsistence of the woodpecker, we’re also uncertain what’s real or not in the film. There’s also some nice, quiet moments provided by Hyrns who plays a man with absolutely nothing left in his life aside from the possibility of being the first person to spot the woodpecker. Doing so, he thinks, will make him a “major league birder” and will be his moment in the sun. “Woodpecker” is a great, funny and surprisingly moving film that’s not to be missed.