(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Judy Irving (writer/director of this film and of THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL) returns to her study of birds. The story begins when a pelican lands on the Golden Gate Bridge, ties up traffic, is captured, and is taken to a seabird rescue center. Irving tracks the bird's probable origins and examines the lives of these awkward and graceful birds. As is almost de rigeur for wildlife documentaries there is a lament for how human effects on nature are destroying animals' lives. This film has a sort of laid-back quality following the lives of pelicans Gigi and Morro. There is plenty of footage covering the birds in flight, but nothing amazing. It is not as focused as WILD PARROTS and it certainly is not one of the technological wonders that cutting edge nature films have become. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

In the final moments of JURASSIC PARK we see what appear at first to be graceful pterosaurs in flight. After a moment we realize what we are seeing is pelicans in flight. They are no less graceful and there is no less wonder that there is an animal living in our world which looks so much like a beautiful prehistoric flying reptile. On the ground a pelican seems a little ungainly and even humorous with the long neck needed to swing the long beak. They look like they have been pulled through a keyhole. The appearance is deceiving. In flight they are glorious figures.

Pelicans have always been a fascination of Judy Irving, the writer and director of this film. (She also filmed it, produced it, and edited it.) But to make another film like her WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL she needed a story to make the subject of her film. Then a four-month-old pelican landed on the roadbed of the Golden Gate Bridge, snarling traffic. Attempts to rescue this bird suggested to Irving that this was how to begin a film that told about the lives of pelicans. This one was dubbed Gigi--a name suggested by the abbreviation of Golden Gate. Gigi had not been able to hunt enough fish to stay healthy and was also suffering from dehydration. Later a second pelican also was the subject of the film. Morro had a broken wing that would not heal and was forever exiled from the skies. We follow the lives of these birds and are told about the life cycle and society of pelicans.

Pelicans themselves are fascinating to watch. They are a strange combination of awkward and graceful. They have that humorous- looking long beak and the longer neck to accommodate it. Not only can they see 360 degrees around them, they can turn that neck so the beak and eyes can point almost full circle, 360 degrees around their bodies. In flight their wings can span to six or seven feet. In WILD PARROTS Irving was able to bring us into the lives of parrots and to make us feel for them. That is the mode here also. Morro was one of three pelicans brought to a wildlife hospital with injured wings. Two healed but Morro can never fly again. Morro sees birds recover and go flying off, but her wing cannot heal so she can only watch other birds come, heal, and regain the sky while she is lonely and earthbound.

We take a time-out in the story and nature photography to see what human-despoiled nature is doing to pelicans, formerly with DDT and now with overfishing, pollution, dumping, oil spills, and climate changing. There are so many threats and so little time for Irving to spend on each.

It has been eleven years since Judy Irving released her documentary THE WILD PARROTS OF TELEGRAPH HILL. PELICAN DREAMS is her new release and again it is looking at the lives of birds. Her earlier film was, for the time, a special nature documentary. PELICAN DREAMS is not quite as good a film, taken on its own merits. In the interim, however, technology has completely transformed nature documentaries. Now if you want to see a bear cub's first emergence from his hibernation, that is on film. Do you want a penguin's eye view of the huddle of penguins huddled and waiting out the long Antarctic winter? That is on film also. PELICAN DREAMS is an old- fashioned documentary, not so cutting edge. It shows you a lot of footage of pelicans in flight and gives you some information about mankind's threat to pelicans. Technology has raised the bar on nature films, and it is hard to make this kind of film compete with documentaries one can see free on PBS. But at least PELICAN DREAMS has a natural style of nature filmmaking.

When it looks at the plight and prospects for the species the film might better have been called PELICAN NIGHTMARES. This species of majestic birds is all too probably in its final years, one more species dying from the effects on the environment of human contact. The brown pelican has been removed from the endangered species list, but the struggle is far from over. I rate PELICAN DREAMS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper