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The Place Is The Thing

Bird's-Eye View

Fri., March 9, 2012

The Place Is The Thing

Bird's-Eye View

'The Central Park Effect'

Wake up. See the blur of color to your right. The trees rustle and a high trill commences. Those who are truly awake to the world around them will look more closely, the documentary The Central Park Effect suggests. If they're birders, look for a set of binoculars to quickly appear.

Set in the giant natural expanse surrounded by New York City, the film is a meditation on nature and the human need to experience it. Filmmaker Jeffrey Kimball found himself on the same journey after moving to New York City. "I would regularly go into the park for a few hours, and especially during the migration periods, I could see 50 or 60 or even 70 birds in one morning," he says. "Repeatedly when I would mention this to people, their jaws would drop open. They couldn't believe it. 'Rats and pigeons' was the standard refrain of what people thought lived in the park."

As the film explains, the park is actually by happenstance a sanctuary for many of the world's bird species, particularly during migration when the dearth of other natural options have the winged critters alighting there. "I'm also totally intrigued by the fact that the park is totally man-made," Kimball says. "I think most New Yorkers think – I know I did – that 150 or so years ago, they just fenced off a chunk of nature and said, 'let's leave this as a park.' But that's not the case. Even more remarkable, I think, is that even though it's totally fake, it's working as a natural oasis. Sort of a 'if you build it, they will come' scenario. The birds don't care how it was created. It provides shelter, water, and lots of food in the way of insects."

The film's main human character is Starr Saphir, a seventysomething who has led both amateur and experienced birders on park tours for more than 30 years. A bit of a curmudgeon, she is also facing her own mortality while living with terminal cancer. "She's very quick-witted, famous for her puns," Kimball says. "She used to be a classical actress and did lots of Shakespeare, and once you know that, it totally makes sense – she's always sort of performing."

Another surprise birder in the film is novelist Jonathan Franzen. "I loved reading The Corrections when in came out in 2001," Kimball says. "I began reading his other works, his essays, some of which were about birds and birding, where I not only discovered that he was a birder, but that he discovered the magic of birding in Central Park."

Kimball is well-known as a music supervisor on films from acclaimed directors Steven Soderbergh and John Sayles, but this is his feature directing debut. "My whole career in music was a sidetrack to my interest in wanting to make films," he says. "I loved it because I got to work on so many great films, but I wanted to do something different." – Joe O'Connell

The Central Park Effect

Documentary Feature Competition

Sunday, March 11, 4pm, Vimeo

Monday, March 12, 4:!5pm, Alamo Lamar

Thursday, March 15, 1:45pm, Alamo Lamar

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