The mention of the Ivory-billed woodpecker will likely draw looks of apathy or shrugs of shoulders from the average person, but to the people of Brinkley, Arkansas the Ivory-billed woodpecker is a symbol of hope, that for once their small town of not quite 4000 will mean something to the world just by the very existence of the bird. Scott Crocker's documentary "Ghost Bird" examines the re-discovery of the Ivory-billed woodpecker by residents in the Brinkley area around 2004, and illustrates how much the possible re-emergence of the bird means not only to the scientific community but a small microcosm of the world at large. Once thought to have been extinct for more than 50 years, the very claim that someone has possibly seen the bird sparks a series of events that question the veracity of the claim, but more importantly remind everyone the precious ecosystem that we are a part of, and the impact one loss can have.
Crocker arguably has an uphill battle holding the attention of viewers for 90-minutes with a story about a bird, but through sharp editing and a bold soundtrack, he gracefully unfolds the story, putting his camera towards the perspective of the Brinkley citizens. The hype is built, excitement is in the air as news clips proudly proclaim the important scientific discovery. Crocker lets those involved speak for themselves, never employing a narrator and it's not long before he will have riled his audience up with woodpecker fever. However, just as coolly as he begins it and true to the history of the story, the experts emerge and like any good scientist would, they ask for evidence. Determined to not kill his momentum, Crocker carefully eases the proceedings into standard dissemination of information, but because of our investment in the excitement, our attention is kept rapt, because we long for science to be on our side.
The outcome aside, "Ghost Bird" is a lot more than a simple tale of a possible extinct species returning from the metaphorical ashes. Crocker is incredibly objective and through his objectivity issues tangential to the woodpecker are addressed, including an insightful foray to the world of the skeptic and how the anonymous internet blogger is often the only one willing to challenge claims or ask for more evidence. More importantly though, the very topic of extinction forces those involved in the search for definitive proof of the bird's existence as well as viewers just how vital and meaningful a single species is to the world. It's the only real stance Crocker takes, opening the film with a few sobering facts regarding extinction past, present and future.
"Ghost Bird" is a quite competent documentary, but one that does require viewers to have some interest in the subject matter. Hopefully even the most jaded person understands the fragility of our planet's ecosystems and will be able to immerse themselves in an obscure but important tale of science, history, and society. Granted Crocker could have been a bit more liberal in the editing room but minor quibbles don't dilute the bigger picture. A solid, satisfying trip.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is serviceable for a documentary. There are some minor compression artifacts in backgrounds and detail is average at best, but the handling of stock footage is better than expected.
The English stereo audio track delivers dialogue clear and distortion free, while the pleasing soundtrack shows more than a little bit of life.
A selection of more than 40 minutes of deleted scenes are included, each with a text based explanation of the content contained.
A pleasant, thought provoking documentary, Scott Crocker's "Ghost Bird" reminds us of the small things we take for granted and how their disappearances aren't often recognized until the occasional miraculous second chance. Despite the complex story, Crocker keeps things simple, to the point, and on track from start to finish. Recommended.