Clellie Lynch: The Golden Owlets of 2017

EAST CHATHAM, N.Y. — What are the best avian films to grace the green screen this year? Who are the best and brightest birds and birdettes of 2017? Who will win a Golden Owlet? The nest boxes of the members of the Avian Academy fill with screeners from the beginning of December. Many a past Owlet award winner spends the winter watching one movie after another.

This year not only did Hollywood buzz with the excitement of new films, with performances by new and veteran actors, directors, producers, but also reeled to learn what took place behind the green screen — tales of desperate performances in green rooms of the powerful and the monied among them. How many talented birdettes were backed into small cozy nests and forced to perform weird and humiliating feats. Too many! #Metweettoo stories are more revealing and heartbreaking than many of the movies themselves.

Every bird has a story, but not every bird tells a story in the same way. Some rely on history: "The Short Flight," "Dunlin." Or are costume dramas: "Murder on the Orient Flyway," "Phantom Feather." Some reflect living in a tough landscape: "I, Towhee," "The Florida Moorhen Project," "Three Beakboards Outside Ebbing, Mo."

Biobirdpics are always favorites: "The Quiet Passerine," "Maudie," as are coming-of-age stories: "Mademoiselle Oiseau," "Tweet me by your Nomen." Some are fantasies: the comic derivative, "Wonderwren." Or futuristic fantasies: "Downsizing." Some directors and writers like to explore the differences of cultures. Watch the "The Big Pellet" or "Mockingbird Stories." Or the clever, witty and very telling "Gettawayfromme."

A sad bird's tale

In "I, Towhee," Little Tonya Towhee is a natural on ice. Just as some birds are amazing aerial performers, Miss Towhee is an exquisite icecapader. But there's a hitch. (Isn't there always?) She was not from the right sector of the woods, nor did she understand the needed outward signs to please the powers that be. Not her fault — her Mom could outdo any roaring tiger mom; she was not just overbearing and pushy, but crude, rude and unloving.

Tonya Towhee takes up with a badbird, who is friends with stupidbird. Uh-oh, this story will not end well. And it doesn't. Her erstwhile friends attack her play-by-the-rules competition, Nancy Nuthatch. Blame and banishment follow. A sad, but true tale.

Speaking of moms, there's "Mademoiselle Oiseau," a film about a young lady bird — please call me Mademoiselle Oiseau — on the cusp of college. Her not so tigerish mom, but tigerish enough, is exasperated with her nestling as many are during those trying fledgling years. Mme. is ready to roll — she takes no beak from her mom, from the nuns, from her friends; she finds out her boyfriend flies for the other side and her mom is adamantly against her flitting away to a far-away college. With the help of her Papa though, she does apply to schools in NYC and, voil she's accepted! Eventually Mme. and her mom unruffled their feathers and Mme. fledges, and flies East with her mom's blessing. A charming empty-the-nest story.

"The Shape of Waterbirds" is a strange and beautiful story of a voiceless egret, Greta, that takes up with a weird amphibian-like water creature, a being reminiscent of that from which all birds evolved. Greta works at a high security lab infiltrated by Russian spies. The creature, captured from a river in South America, has wondrous healing powers and is much in demand by researchers wanting to vivisection it and somehow acquire its magical attributes.

Greta falls in love with the creature, kidnaps it from the lab, keeps it in her bath and ultimately they run away together to the sea. Our soundless heroine takes to the water (no regrets there) to escape her not-so-good-life above ground. Sally Hawk immerses us in a superb performance.

"The Florida Moorhen Project" also involves the dangers of playing near the water's edge. It's a story of survival, of down-at-their-webbed-toes hens and chicks living on the fringes in a purple swamp motel run by a gallant purple gallinule. Oh those chicks run wild, but have oh so much fun. The hens, black, white and brown, not so much, all valiantly trying to just get by, scrabbling and scrounging about to make sure their chicks are fed and will reach viable adulthood. All this takes place in the shadow of Disneyworld where the fantasy of a charmed life is packaged and sold through critters such as Mickey Mouse and Goofy. (Why on earth would anyone listen to them?) These hens and chicks know reality and Disneyworld is a far cry from it.

Feather reduction

Not only is the world overpopulated by people who consume more food than ever, avians keep breeding and breeding. A very intelligent Norwegian goose developed a method of reducing feathers, thereby body size of birds to less than one fiftieth their size. "Downsizing," indeed! Not only would these newly proportioned sparrows and sandpipers, herons and hawks, grouse and gulls not need as much food a'tall a'tall, but they would not need extensive territories either. Flycatchers couldn't fathom it. Insects would be bigger than they were.

All well and good for those interested in extreme sports. But no, the inventor would also create a protected domed community to live it. When the Sapsucker couple from Oklahoma agrees to do this, the wife backs out and he's left shrunk and lonely. The movie flies along into a future that maybe is not what it seems.

"Dunlin" tells the sweeping story about the rescue of many shorebirds trapped between the war mongooses of Germany and the watery channel keeping them from their flats and estuaries in their homeland, England. The dunlin were, excuse the expression, sitting ducks. But their fellow seagulls, sea birds, sea ducks, came across the channel flotilla after flotilla in party boats, in sail boats, in yachts and even fishing trawlers. Weary and wounded dunlin tumbled into the boats large and small to be ferried to safety. An amazing feat by all concerned.

These are but a few of this year's offerings. Stay tuned and come March watch the parade of beautiful birds and birdettes as they strut, soar and drag their plumes along the path to glory in all their feathered frippery and finery!

Clellie Lynch is a regular Eagle contributor.


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