Green Film Festival: Emptying the Skies
By Ryder W. Miller

Emptying the Skies

Great to see such a sad and courageous story on film. Emptying the Skies tells the story in an unusual way and is likely to inspire. It gains from following the environmental protectors and their stories closely. Rather than them being talking heads, the defenders are characters in a sometimes dangerous story that unfolds. One can see the literary flair of novelist Jonathan Franzen in this unfinished tale based on a piece he wrote for The New Yorker.

At stake in this environmental film are the fates of migratory birds flying into Europe and over the Mediterranean. Millions are captured each year by poachers who do not only set traps, but also put glue on tree sticks that attract and capture birds. At a number of times in the documentary we watch as the protectors of the birds pull them off the sticks to which they are glued. One can watch as the feathers are pealed out of the glue in a heart wrenching way. The scenes of the captured birds are so painful that one might find themselves nauseous. Many of the birds do still survive the ordeal, even when they are sometimes caught in nets. Though roughed up, the viewer watches as they are able to fly away.

A great effort is underway to protect these songbirds now which are so small that they fit in the palm of one’s hand. They are collected as a delicacy and served in some European restaurants where the bones are eaten with the torso. The practice used to be widespread, but is being halted.

It is now illegal to catch them and serve them in many places in Europe, but the poaching continues. This is not an enjoyable film in the sense that it is fun, but instead a hard tale about those who try to protect animals and change the world. The documentary follows a small group of defenders as they confront poachers.

One sees the angry poachers protesting the bird aficionados who are interfering with the traditional practices that are changing. At times it does seem like people are going to come to blows on the screen with much animosity and hostility depicted. A small band of defenders are followed for some of these encounters, and documentary gives them time to express their motivations. The story is unsettling and does get one to care.

The defenders do however run into trouble facing what might very well be the mafia in Italy. A few of the members of the band were attacked, but they were not deterred. They have decided to fight on and now the police sometimes join them for some of their raids against those who are seeing a different, kinder world in the making.

Change is hard, and this film captures the motivation and drive of those who are getting the world to change and see wildlife differently. It is cool in this film to view the  birds, as there are some amazing species on display. They are not only wonderful, but also beautiful to see when they have not been injured. This film will have a public release and one will be able to see it on PBS or purchase it. If one is not already, viewers are likely to be for the birds because of this.

Friday May 30th 6pm
Emptying the Skies
English & Italian, w/ subtitles
West Coast Premiere.

Based on Jonathan Franzen’s essay in The New Yorker, this powerful documentary follows an intrepid squad of pan-European bird-lovers in their secret struggle to save the millions of songbirds that are illegally poached each year in the Mediterranean. “It’s The Cove for bird lovers.” – DC Metro Theater Arts


DISCUSSION WITH: Roger Kass, director; Andrea Rutigliano, CABS

RyderRyder W. Miller is an environmental reporter, independent scholar, critic, and eco-critic who writes about Nature, Astronomy, the Sea, Academic books, Art, American Literature, and Genre Literature. He also writes short stories (usually genre stories) and poems. He is the editor of From Narnia to a Space Odyssey and co-writer of San Francisco: A Natural History. He is currently looking for a publisher for a book of Nature Writing/News Columns called An Ocean Beach Diary (published in The West Portal Monthly and Redwood Coast Review), and a collection of genre stories (many already published in Mythic Circle and The Lost Souls website). He has published on the web what could be a book collection of essays about science fiction and fantasy. He is also working on a anthology of Environmental stories called Green Visions. Following the dictum of C.S. Lewis he has come to believe that it is easier to criticize than understand, but not every book is worthwhile or a contribution.