The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill
New Video // G // $39.95 // October 28, 2008
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 24, 2008
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As cities expand (see Bentonville, AR, which has seen incredible expansion around Wal-Mart's HQ), there are more and more incidents of wildlife that had never previously been seen in populated areas finding themselves in cities. While city dwellers may appreciate the uncommon sight of wildlife on the way to work or leisure, the visit probably wasn't what the animal had in mind.

"The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" is a lovely documentary that looks into a case of wildlife visitors making their way into an urban area. In this case, the subjects are 45 wild parrots who have formed into a flock and exist in the San Francisco area. They are cared for by Mark Bittner, a quiet, well-spoken man who has lived a good portion of his life on the streets, going from odd job to odd job (originally he intended to come to San Francisco to become a singer, but that didn't work out.)

In recent years, he's taken up residence in a small cottage on a hill, and the birds continually come around to visit their friend. While Bittner appreciates the company, he's surprisingly straightforward about his pals; he knows that if he stopped feeding them and taking care of them, they may very well simply leave. Many have their theories on where they came from in the first place, such as the possibility of a pet supplier's crate accidentally left open.

However, while they're with him, he has managed to name the curious creatures, as some of them have their own markings and all of them seem to have their own personalities, including one parrot from a different species that hangs around the flock for company, but can't find a mate. Another bird is a rare example of one that would rather be inside (he even dances to some music) than outside. Bittner carefully documents the actions of the flock and tries to nurse those that are injured or under the weather.

He recalls the first time he'd come across the birds, and the feeling of finally finding something that may be his calling. As for a calling, an advisor at the San Francisco zoo talks about being called on a few occasions by Mark to ask questions about the birds, and one wonders why Mark couldn't work his way up at the local zoo taking care of birds (although we do find out that he has written a bestselling book on his story.) As the film heads towards a close, Mark is forced to leave his current home and, as a result, say goodbye to his friends. While the initial scenes had showed Bittner seemingly at peace with the fact that he may have to leave his feathered friends that had changed his life someday, the scenes of him actually doing so are heartbreaking. There is, however, an unexpected happy ending for both Mark and director Judy Irving, as well as for the birds featured.

While "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" does seem a tad long (some moments feel a little like filler), this is otherwise a cute, entertaining and sometimes moving look at these little birds who have had such an effect on one man's life, and how he had become their caretaker.


VIDEO: Docurama presents the film in 1.33:1 full-frame. The film was shot on 16MM and while the presentation is certainly quite watchable, there are some inconsistencies with sharpness and several noticeable instances of specks, marks and other print wear. Colors appear bright and well-saturated.

SOUND: Crisp, clear stereo soundtrack.

EXTRAS: The first disc offers a short featurette that sees Bittner revisiting the area where the parrots were and coming into contact with the flock once again. He goes through the different birds, providing a discussion on each of the members, as well as a look at some of the new members of the flock. 7 deleted scenes are included, featuring some human-related scenes (such as one interviewing locals who had encounters with the parrots) and some bird footage without narration. Four short films ("Homage to Connor", "Mingus at the Oasis", "Mark's Home Movies" and "California Quail") Particularly cute is the visit with Mingus, a feisty bird currently in an Arizona care facility. While the bird initially seems stand-offish, he starts grooving along with the music when Mark starts playing the guitar. "Homage to Connor" is a thoughtful look at the little outsider from a different species of parrot who had joined the flock. Also included on the first disc are a music video and trailer.

The second disc offers a set of updates, including a more recent update on the flock (which has now expanded to over 200 birds, who have gained more fame and have expanded their territory.) We also get more on Mark and Judy, as well as a look at a parrot rescue and the city's ban on feeding the birds (a subject Mark spoke on in front of the city counsel.)

A pair of parrot-related short films, "Parrots and Power Polls" and "Parrot Trade", are also found on the second disc. The former focuses on one species that has gotten in trouble and whose nests have been removed due to their nesting habits (despite the fact that it seems as if the parrots are not causing any real trouble) and the latter talks about where the parrots have been imported from and how rules have changed.

We also get a new music video, outtakes and two new documentaries from Judy (the 30-minute "19 Arrests, No Convictions" and the 6-minute "Christmas at the Bait Shop") and outtakes. Two new parrot footage pieces are also found on the second disc under "Strictly For Parrots" (the 8-minute "LA Amazons" and the 20-minute "Parrots Around the World".) The insert has an excerpt from Mark's book.

Final Thoughts: While "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" does seem a tad long (some moments feel a little like filler), this is otherwise a cute, entertaining and sometimes moving look at these little birds who have had such an effect on one man's life, and how he had become their caretaker. This Special Edition offers decent video quality, fine audio quality and a very solid helping of supplemental features. Recommended.

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