SXSW Film Review: Poached

A riveting portrait of compulsive human predators

When does a childlike enthusiasm become a destructive obsession? That’s the central question of Timothy Wheeler’s riveting documentary about English “eggers,” obsessed with collecting the newly laid eggs of rare birds – endangering the birds while daring imprisonment, disgrace, or worse.

The direct inspiration for his film, said director Timothy Wheeler, was a 2013 New Yorker story, “Operation Easter,” by Julian Rubinstein, which recounted the strange compulsions of the egg collectors, who trace their pursuits to the 19th-century culture of English naturalists, and who defy modern laws against the practice as a crime against wildlife.

The film interviews conservationists and police investigators, but its heart is a handful of collectors (and “former” collectors) who attempt to understand their compulsion by explaining it to the filmmakers. One or two, determined to stop themselves, accomplish that better than others – some defy the authorities bluntly, “for my own gratification,” or “I do it for the buzz, really.” The filmmakers take pains to humanize the thieves, but compared to the nest guardians and the officers who protect the birds, they embody damaged human goods. A six-year-old boy, seeing such vandalism, weeps tears of wisdom beyond his age.


Documentary Feature Competition, World Premiere
Tuesday, March 17, 11:30am, Alamo Lamar
Wednesday, March 18, 11:00am, Alamo Ritz

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