From Gorillaz to Birds

Welcome to the diary I am going to write through my next film project, The Bird Effect. Where do I begin with the Bird Effect? What is The Bird Effect? And why would you be interested? And who the bloody hell, am I?

Well, I am a filmmaker who has just had one of the longest periods of gestation for a film! After a nine year period filming and editing Bananaz, a documentary about the internal world of the band Gorillaz, the creation of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, my life needed a change from the years of filming in darkened studios, on the road and nightly activities. Now I have found myself walking into a completely different place to inhabit with my camera, a land of brightness, colour and nature, in fact a suitably appropriate place for the next phase of my life. So what am I doing in this forgotten land of sunlight? I am endeavouring to make a documentary film entitled The Bird Effect.

The Bird Effect is, in its simplest definition, a study of how birds inform and affect people. The film talks to, looks at and works with a variety of people across the spectrum of life covering the arts to science. From birders, twitchers, scientists and conservationists to artists, writers and musicians.

What influence are birds upon us? Why does an artist or musician feel inspired to pick up the brush or write a song? Why does a conservationist try to protect these creatures from dying out? How does the critically endangered list of 192 species and their potential extinction mean danger for mankind itself? Are birds actually an indicator of the world’s problems or should we not worry about the fate of birds? Extinction happens, so shouldn’t we just accept it? Since 1600 approximately 100 species of birds have become extinct, but over a third of these have occurred within the last 100 years. An acceleration which could easily be construed as being due to man’s interference upon the planet. The one thing we can say is that without birds the skies would be emptier.

Why do we find pleasure in standing and watching a bird appear and disappear from view? What makes a man stand up for these creatures and defy hunters in Africa to be shot and left for dead to resume his conservation from the lifetime confines of a wheelchair? But the birds were saved… What makes these animals affect so many people on this planet? And why do we, and why should we care?

I hope to address these types of questions through my filmic odyssey of meeting people and discovering their stories. I am eager to concentrate on the people who devote so much time to birds because through them and their work, obsession and devotion a story will unfurl that champions these animals and nature itself…To understand and to show the audience the passions that birds can ignite…

Thursday July 16th

So how did I get here? In October 2005, my wife and I went for a holiday to the Isles of Scilly. For me it was a return to a childhood lost and past as my family went there for my formative summers as a kid. It was a magical place and I don’t know what spurred me on to book a week away in the Star Castle where we used to stay, but that is what I did.

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After thirty five years or so it was as difficult as always to get to Scilly but once we stepped off the helicopter, which sounds grandiose but it is one of the main and usual ways of accessing the islands, there was a smell, a feel and a stirring of remembrance. Little was I to know that it was a holiday that would change my life. But isn’t that so often the way? It’s just about having the vision to realise a serendipitous moment is upon you.

The Star Castle, was built by Queen Elizabeth I, and stands in its star shape atop St Mary’s, the main island. It is a castle of corridors, stairs and ramparts. I bounced out of the taxi, driven by Spider, who would later become a birding friend, and I knew where I was immediately. The years rolled back. Straight through to reception and there was an aroma of my youth. Later, on further exploration of the castle I managed to answer a mystery of mine. We entered the lounge/TV room and I finally remembered where I had watched the Moon landing in 1969! A question that had remained unanswered all these years. Until now. And of course that didn’t mean that the room hadn’t been decorated in all that time, it just had the correct feel. And that often is a true sense of place. The feel of it. The Eagle had truly landed here.

Anyway, I was the oldest 8 year old in town and we had a magnificent time, getting on and off boats, wandering the islands enjoying a late warmth in the year. It is a mix of the Caribbean and the British wilds. White sands, palm trees, blue water, gorse and bracken! A strange brew and a heady one. For a grubby Londoner the air was way too clean for me!

Then one day, we were walking round the Garrison, which surrounded the castle, when we stopped to look at a little bird hopping in a tree in front of us. I had no idea what it was. But it was a pretty enough creature. Then, before we knew what had happened we were surrounded, and then removed, by a group of people with tripods, cameras and binoculars. “It’s here!” Within seconds we were at the very back of the group of pushy people and we distanced ourselves even further. We had heard about these people… the locals had warned us. This army descended upon the islands every October; apparently these were twitchers. (I would discover the difference between a twitcher and a birder at a later date.) We asked one of the slightly less excitable members of the group what the bird was;. “a something something war ball”. We walked away none the wiser and I took a photo of the group as a memory.

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Later that day we met Kevin and Sonia, who were birders and were staying at the hotel. They invited us out for a days birding with them. Kevin explained to me that the bird we had seen was a Black Poll Warbler, an extremely rare visitor to these Isles that would have been blown off course during its migratory flight. In his eyes the excitement of the bird still burned brightly and I marked down this passion for future reference. The next day we all went out and had a wonderful day birding in the rain, getting thoroughly drenched, but a fun experience, if at times slightly comedic. We learnt the art of standing in neck high gorse and bracken and the skill of silence, something I have always struggled with. It gave me ideas to explore, for a possible documentary down the line. It seemed like this bird watching stuff could make an instantly funny programme. Little did I know that it would consume me and develop new passions within me and take me far away from what I would initially set out to do. To quote Kenn Kaufman from Kingbird Highway, “The most significant thing we find may not be the thing we were seeking.” And that is how things seem to be with The Bird Effect. The more I learn, the more my parameters have changed. I see people involved with so many aspects of birds and I find the majority of them inspiring. I hope that in the coming months as I make the film I can keep you informed, entertained and hopefully interested in the project. With each day I immerse myself into the world of birds and nature. It’s all shiny new but it’s always been there… It’s me who hasn’t been.

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