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The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
Actor: Mark Bittner
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
G     2005     1hr 23min

An "engrossing, delightful film" (The Washington Post), THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL is the bonafide sleeper theatrical hit of the year. The film's endearing guide is Mark Bittner, an aging bohemian, but the supporti...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Mark Bittner
Creators: Judy Irving, Chris Michie
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Special Interests, Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy, Nature & Wildlife, Educational, Nature & Wildlife
Studio: Docurama
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 12/26/2005
Original Release Date: 01/01/2003
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2003
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 23min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: G (General Audience)
Languages: English
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Movie Reviews

"Director's Cut: Full-Screen DVD"
Judy Irving | San Francisco, CA | 01/02/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I'm Judy Irving, the producer/director of "Wild Parrots," and I'd like to address Wes's misconceptions in "Warning: DVD is not in wide screen." The film was shot in 16mm (1.66 to 1), which is the same shape as a tv screen. When it was blown up to 35mm for theatrical release, each shot in the movie has to lose 39% of its original image at top and/or bottom, to arrive at the 1.85 to 1 wide-screen aspect ratio. For each shot, I had to decide what to lose: head room? bottom? or a little of both? For the DVD release, I specifically requested that the film be mastered in its original 16mm dimensions, so that viewers could see 1) 39% more image, and 2) how each shot was originally framed. Wes's confusion may have resulted from IMDB stating that the film was shot in wide-screen. It wasn't. Enjoy!"
Bird's Eye View
Bitcetc | Houston, TX USA | 04/16/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Not only an endearing, entertaining and environmentally intelligent documentary, this film is also funny, thought-provoking and inspiring. The story of Mark Bittner's journey to become the expert on and the caretaker of the flock of wild parrots of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, while he avoids most of the appearances of being connected to society or to society's values along the way, certainly makes one wonder about the importance of some of the taken-for-granted symbols of success. The respect he earns for the study of the birds is a result of the intelligence, sensitivity, and acute observation skills he brings to his passion, while he wryly maintains a charmingly self-deprecating view of himself-- even if he DOES deny being eccentric. What's wrong with eccentric?

It is a movie about the parrots as much as about Mark. If you can watch this movie and not be convinced of the individuality of the birds' personalities, then you are hopelessly anthropocentric. If you watch Mingus dance and are not convinced he's enjoying the music, or if Connor's story in no way moves you, then you may have become far too limited in your view of the world; a bird's eye view is certainly called for. This is a quirky and lovely story, lovingly told. I did not find the ending to be a surprise, as many did, but agree that it was uplifting.

Congratulations to director Judy Irving. Like the other reviewers, I will buy the DVD because this is one I'll want to see again over time. A-"
Great Parrot Footage for Bird Lovers. A Vivid Companion to M
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 01/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

""The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" bears the same title as the 2004 book by Mark Bittner, the bohemian resident of San Francisco's Telegraph Hill who chronicled his experiences with a flock of cherry-headed conures whom he befriended and cared for. This film by Judy Irving begins later in Bittner's relationship with the birds and ends sooner than the book, which covers more time and goes into more depth in describing the individual birds' personalities. You don't need to have read the book to understand the film, though. Anyone who loves parrots will enjoy seeing the characters among San Francisco's wild flock. But I think the book does increase the audience's appreciation of the flock and Bittner's role in helping them along. If you have read the book, it is extraordinary to see the birds in action in this film, which includes a lot of colorful footage of these playful, vivacious parrots.

As the film starts, the flock numbers about 45 birds, cherry-headed conures plus one blue-crowned conure, Conner, and an occasional budgie. It ends around the time Mark Bittner moved away from Telegraph Hill due to renovations. In addition to observing the flock, we hear Bittner recount his life in San Francisco as a bohemian drifter in search of direction, which he finally found in the unlikely form of a flock of displaced parrots. Bittner does most of the talking about the parrots, through interviews and voice-over narration. There are also interviews with his Telegraph Hill neighbors, the curator of birds at San Francisco's Lorikeet Aviary, John Aiken, and a host of people speculating on the flock's origins. By the film's end, the flock included a mitred conure and hybrid offspring, and it's unclear to me how many birds it numbered. But the flock included around 160 birds by the time this DVD was finished.

It's incredible to see these birds living and thriving in an urban environment, feeding on fellow non-natives: the subtropical plants imported for landscaping. Judy Irving has captured some of the most engaging footage of parrots that I've ever seen on film. And this film adds some value to Mark Bittner's book beyond visuals: Bittner comes across as less reclusive and eccentric than he did in his book. And I got a much stronger sense of Conner's plight, as the flock's regal, thoughtful outsider, from the film than I did from the book, which I really appreciated. "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" is a vivid account of some very out-of-place parrots who have made a place for themselves in an urban jungle filled with humans and other oddities. A great film for bird-lovers -and take a look at the book too, if you can.

The DVD (New Video Group 2005): This DVD is loaded with extras as long as the film itself, and you won't want to miss them if you're interested in the origins of the flock, updates on the flock, or just want to see more parrot pictures. There is a "Flock Update" (7 min), containing info on the birds and Mark's move back to Telegraph Hill, which I believe is in the book but not the movie. There are 7 deleted scenes (25 min) available, including a long sequence, "Flock Origins" (14 min), on the early days of the flock, in which Laurel Wroten recounts her observations of how 2 apparently escaped cherry-headed conures became 7 and then were joined by Conner and his blue-crowned mate. This ends a lot of speculation about how the flock began. There are 4 short films (51 min) about Conner, Mingus' life at the Oasis Sanctuary, and "Mark's Home Movies", which include a lot of footage of birds discussed in the book. There is a Music Video (4 min) of a song about Dojen, Conner, and Tupelo, recorded by Roberta Fabiano. Also: a theatrical trailer (2 min), "Filmmaker Bio" (text), "About the Book" (text), including how to order a signed copy, "About the Soundtrack" (how to order), "About Pelican Media" (where to get t-shirts and other movie paraphernalia), and DVD credits. No subtitles."
For the Love of Birds
Debbie Lee Wesselmann | the Lehigh Valley, PA | 01/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This gentle documentary features Mark Bittner, an aging hippy and once-musician living in San Francisco, and the birds he loves, a flock of now-wild and breeding cherry-headed conures (and a few hangers-on) who reside in the city's trees. Viewers who don't have experience with the intelligence and antics of the parrot family might approach this film the way one of the tourists does at the beginning when he says, "If they have names, then they can't be wild." Viewers will soon understand the unique niche these parrots have forged for themselves in the urban environment. Non-native and yet able to find food because of imported landscape plants, these birds swoop over the hills in a raucous flock and have become as much a part of San Francisco as the more numerous pigeons.

Filmmaker Judy Irving captures Bittner's need to do right by the parrots with loving photography and soft-spoken questions. When she asks her most pointed question, "What is the difference between you and the pigeon lady?", Bittner pauses for several beats before finally answering, with some pain, "I don't know." But we do know by then. His feeding the birds might not be any different but his curiosity about them and his drive to protect them distinguishes him. Irving has managed to portray, through Bittner's interactions and thoughts about "his" flock, the individuality of the birds: Mingus, an escaped conure who would rather live inside with Bittner than outside; Connor, the lonely blue-headed conure who inhabits the fringes of the cherry-headed society but who values his freedom over companionship; little nerve-damaged Sophie whose poignant devotion to her mate Picasso is heart-breaking; and, most touching of all, the cripple Tupelo who adores her trips into the garden while cradled in Bittner's hands. When a city councilman reveals that some environmentalists wanted the birds captured and exterminated since they are considered invaders, viewers will be horrified since, unlike the environmentalists, they have come to know and love these birds.

Irving provides context for the man/bird relationship through interviews with a lorikeet zookeeper at the San Francisco zoo, the locals who have their own theories about how the flock came to be, politicians, and tourists. This film is not a hard-hitting documentary since it fails to fully explore the underlying conditions and politics of the situation. Instead, it is a tribute to Bittner and the individual parrots he adopts as his friends. Viewers who cannot get enough of the conures will be delighted with the DVD extras, several of which follow up on events.

The film shows how right Bittner's fatalistic sixties' philosophy can be: if something doesn't work out, then it wasn't meant to be. You just have to wait for the right calling to come along. In Bittner's case, he has become a champion not only of these conures but of animal right/intelligence in general. -- Debbie Lee Wesselmann"