More Disappointment

I had dinner with a friend last night who told me that she, too, had seen and enjoyed Winged Migration. But then she told me she had been dismayed to find out that the makers of the film manipulated the birds and staged everything. Apparently this was not a secret; it is detailed in the extras, the behind the scenes footage that they included on the DVD.

In all the press materials, and articles I can recall (without research), it was implied that this was truly an observational documentary — birds on their own turf, doing their own thing in their own time. I remember talk of the traditional and remote controlled gliders, Ultra Light Motorized aircraft, and other contraptions on which cameras were mounted to capture the ‘bird’s eye’ view (sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist). Now I hear that the birds filmed were raised by (or maybe at the behest of) the filmmakers; transported to various locations, then filmed while being led to fly from point A to point B ; and that situations were staged.

I don’t condemn their methods (although I am not thrilled by the thought that they may have deliberately placed birds in the path of hunters), but I do condemn their deception. Just as I believe that nonfiction writers have an implied contract with their readers to disclose whether the account is completely accurate or whether they have taken any liberties (such as creating composite or fictional characters and invented dialogue), I also believe that documentary makers should be held to the same standards.

If you are a regular reader of DevraDoWrite (and I hope that you are) you know that this is one of my repeated refrains. See the last paragraph of this May 10th Caveat Lector post

P.S. Being that Capote, the movie, opens tomorrow, someone is bound to ask me about In Cold Blood. I loved the book…and then hated Capote when I found out, afterward, that he had actually made up scenes and created a fictional ending. If he had disclosed that up front, i could have applauded both his skill and his imagination. As for the issue of an author manipulating his or her subject(s) to get the story (as was apparently done by both Capote and the birders) that’s a complex can or worms I will tackle at another time.