Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Winged Migration

“Winged Migration is neither a documentary nor fiction, but rather a ‘natural tale’.”

The Film & Art Study continues with a discussion of the Documentary art form and a presentation of the (2001) French film, Le Peuple Migrateur (Winged Migration) , by directors, Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats.

In popular myth, the word 'documentary' was coined by Scottish writer, John Grierson in his review of Robert Flaherty's film Moana (1926), published in the New York Sun on 8 February 1926, written by "The Moviegoer" (a pen name for Grierson).

Grierson's principles of documentary were that cinema's potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus taken from the raw" can be more real than the acted article. In this regard, Grierson's definition of documentary as "creative treatment of actuality" has gained some acceptance, with this position at variance with Soviet film-maker Dziga Vertov's provocation to present "life as it is" (that is, life filmed surreptitiously) and "life caught unawares" (life provoked or surprised by the camera).

Winged Migration
is controversial, in that it deftly blurs the line between fiction and reality in its manipulation of nature to tell a story. This awe-inspiring, critically acclaimed documentary of migrating birds through 40 countries and every continent was captured using planes, gliders, helicopters and balloons, allowing the filmmakers a spectacularly intimate look at their subjects. From Academy Award-nominated Director Jacques Perrin (Z, Black and White in Color). 2002 Academy Award® Nominee for Best Documentary.

For earthbound humans, Winged Migration is as close as any of us will get to sharing the sky with our fine feathered friends. It's as if French director Jacques Perrin and his international crew of dedicated filmmakers had been given a full-access pass by Mother Nature herself, with the complete "cooperation" of countless species of migrating birds, all answering to eons of migratory instinct. The film is utterly simple in purpose, with minimal narration and on-screen titles to identify the wondrous varieties of flying wildlife, but its visceral effect is humbling, awesome and magnificently profound. Technically, Perrin surpasses the achievement of his earlier film Microcosmos (which did for insects what this film does for birds), and apart from a few digital skyscapes for poetic effect, this astonishing film uses no special effects whatsoever, with soaring, seemingly miraculous camera work that blesses the viewer with, quite literally, a bird's-eye view. A brief but important hunting scene may upset sensitive viewers and children, but doesn't stop Winged Migration from being essential all-ages viewing. --Jeff Shannon


The movie was shot over the course of four years on all seven continents. Shot using in-flight cameras, most of the footage is aerial, and the viewer appears to be flying alongside birds of successive species, especially Canada geese. They traverse every kind of weather and landscape, covering vast distances in a flight for survival. The filmmakers exposed over 590 miles of film to create an 89-minute piece. In one case, two months of filming in one location was edited down to less than one minute in the final film.

Much of the aerial footage was taken of "tame" birds. The filmmakers raised birds of several species, including storks and pelicans, from birth. The newborn birds imprinted on staff members, and were trained to fly along with the film crews. The birds were also exposed to the film equipment over the course of their lives to ensure that the birds would react the way the filmmakers want. Several of these species had never been imprinted before. Film was shot from ultralights, paragliders, and hot air balloons, as well as trucks, motorcycles, motorboats, remote-controlled robots, and a French Navy warship. Its producer says that "Winged Migration" is neither a documentary nor fiction, but rather a "natural tale".


The film states that no special effects were used in the filming of the birds, although some entirely-CGI segments that view Earth from outer space augment the real-life footage.

Winged Migration’s soundtrack by Bruno Coulais  was recorded by several Bulgarian  vocal groups in Bulgarian, as well as Nick Cave in English and Robert Wyatt. The vocal effects include sequences in which panting is superimposed on wingbeats to give the effect that the viewer is a bird.


Winged Migration has an overall approval rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (2002).

After producing the soundtracks to Microcosmos and Winged Migration, Bruno Coulais announced that he wanted to significantly reduce his contributions to film music, and instead concentrate on other projects, such as the creation of an opera or children, and collaborations with Akhenaton, Akhenaton's group IAM and the Corsican  group A Filetta, with whom he had worked since he had made the soundtrack for Jacques Weber's film Don Juan in 1998.

When Henry Selick did the animatic for Coraline, he was looking for temp music and tried the music Bruno composed for Microcosmos and Winged Migration. Henry Selick was so taken by the music for Winged Migration, he asked Bruno Coulais to score the picture. In 2009, he won the 37th Annie Awards in the "Music in a Feature Production" category for Coraline.

Winged Migration
was the inspiration for Laika’s first CG animated film, Jack & Ben (which was never finished).

In 2009 he also collaborated with Irish band Kíla to produce the soundtrack for the beautifully and uniquely animated feature film, The Secret of Kells, which tells the story of an orphan boy, Brendan, and his involvement with The Book of Kells. The music is equally light and dark and the textures and sounds equally Continental and Irish.

Bruno Coulais's musical style may vary significantly between different projects, but there are some constant factors visible: his taste for opera and for human voice (in particular that of children), for a search for original sonority, for world music and mixing different musical cultures, and finally, a certain tendency to give preference to the ambience created by lighting rather than the film's narration.

Le Peuple Migrateur (Winged Migration) was written and directed by Jean Dorst, Stephane Durand, Guy Karry, Jacques Perrin, Valentine Perrin and Francis Roux.

RATED G, 98 min, Dolby Digital EX, Color, 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio.

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