Die Gotterdammerung – Reason and Mercy

Die Gotterdammerung is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen or The Ring Cycle.

Last year I wrote a short blogpost about The Forest Bird in Wagners Siegfried. This year, I was lucky enough to see the COC production of Die Gotterdammerung, and found myself pondering the role of birds, both in music and in the stories we tell.

 

Like the opera Siegfried, birds are featured once again in Die Gotterdammerung, but this time we meet two ravens called Reason and Mercy. Tragically (this is opera after all) these ravens are the messengers who decree Siegfried’s death. Birds have something to tell us indeed.

 

Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 5.46.29 PM The raven is perhaps humankinds most storied bird. The mythology of the Haida is based on the epic cycle of stories about the Raven and his various exploits.  One of the best-known of these stories tells how the Raven disguised himself in order to enter the house of the Sky Chief, from whom he stole the sun, moon and stars to give to humankind.

 

Be it stories or music, birds are our long time cultural companions. British composer David Matthews believes that western music inspired by birdsong goes back at least as far as the 16th century. You can read more about his ideas in this essay. Matthews also understands what it means to be losing our birds.

 

 

 “Many of our birds are in decline – the cuckoo among them: fewer people now hear this essential sound of spring. Fortunately we still have blackbirds in great numbers, but we had better take care of them, and our other songbirds, otherwise we shall end up with the silent spring that Rachel Carson warned us of in her famous book of that title. Birds were singing millions of years before we evolved: they were the inventors of music. Maybe our future depends on theirs.”

 

Wise words indeed.

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Gratitude

With gratitude, 2016 was a good year for The Messenger. 2017 will be a challenging year for our environment and the world we live in. We hope that the film will continue to inspire and inform.

Winner: Prix Buffon, Paris Science, Le festival international du film scientifique, 2016

Winner: Special Jury Award, Visions of Nature/Voices of Nature Environmental Film Festival 2016

Special Mention for Best Documentary, CinemAmbiente, Italy 2015

Winner: Best Environmental Film Prize, Festival de l’Oiseau et de la Nature, Abbeville Cedex, France 2016

Winner: Best of Fest, International Wildlife Film Festival Missoula, Montana 2016

Winner: Best Theatrical Feature, International Wildlife Film Festival Missoula, Montana 2016

Nominated: Best Cinematography in a Feature Documentary, Canadian Screen Awards 2016

Nominated: Best Editing in Feature Documentary, Canadian Cinema Editors Award 2016

Nominated: for Dutch IntL Science Film Festival NTR Audience Award & Youth Jury Award, 2016

Winner: Whistleblower Award Cinema Verde Environmental Film & Arts Festival, 2016

Winner: Favourite Documentary Feature, North Bay Film Festival, 2016

Winner: Best Conservation Film, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, 2015

Winner: Top Ten Audience Award, Hot Docs 2015

Recipient of the 2015 Carl Nunn Media and Conservation Award presented by Ontario Nature

 

Now available on itunes in Canada and the USA.

Canada: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/movie/the-messenger/id1177748023

USA. https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-messenger/id1082871787

 

The 6th edition of DREFF – Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival, Santo Domingo

Can’t say enough good things about Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival (DREFF).

This was a very different kind of film festival.

DREFF is an initiative of Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD) and the Global Democracy and Development (FUNGLODE) Foundation. Their goal is to promote environmental films and raise the level of public awareness.

 

publico-4They do this by connecting the film a dedicated audience. The Messenger was paired with several high school groups and screened at different locations in Santo Domingo. Teachers had prepared the students for the screening (including assignments) so they were very attentive!  Filmmakers accompanied their films into the classroom, engaging in lively Q&A’s. It’s great to see environmental films reaching these younger audiences and to see these audiences connecting with the material.

The screenings were rewarding, as was the company. All filmmakers stayed in the same hotel, and spent many wonderful evenings talking — exchanging ideas, perspectives and stories from around the globe. Our screening days took us in very different directions, as many filmmakers travelled all over the Island to present their works to a variety of cities, towns and communities. Programming included films from Chile, the Yukon, South Africa, the UK, the USA and more.

 

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Personal Highlights included a walk through the botanical garden accompanied by a local bird guide who pointed out many resident species that I had previously never seen or heard.

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On the last day of the festival we participated in a beach clean-up. Hundreds of people were present, combing through layers of debris, most of which were discarded plastics. The site of all this garbage along the beach was sobering.  Shocking as it seems, recycling programs are rare in Caribbean countries and there is so much waste! (What ever happened to glass bottles and deposits?) And bottled water is such an environmental tragedy on every level).

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While the beach clean-up left us with the feeling that so much work needs to be done, the festival was a shining example of what can be done, and what is being done with positive and tangible impacts.

Festival Highlights – American Conservation Film Festival

A weekend at American Conservation Film Festival 

The American Conservation Film Festival was created by a group of volunteers who shared both a devotion to film arts and a commitment to conservation.  Three years ago ACFF screened a short film “Silent Skies” which was in essence, a three minute pre-cursor to The Messenger.  I didn’t make it there at that time, so I was delighted to receive the invite present The Messenger at this years fest and present a key-note talk at the filmmakers workshop.

After landing at Dulles Airport I picked up a rental car and headed down a winding road, through the picturesque fall countryside towards Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Much to my chagrin, the road was at first, flanked with Trump for President signs. I found myself clutching the wheel cursing and working up a sweat, wondering if there was anything I could do to break the spell this putrescent demi-god of late capitalism has cast over many US citizens. Driving through this short stretch of road felt like a trip through purgatory, so when I arrived at the National Conservation Training Center, it sure felt like heaven.

Potomac River

Potomac River

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I was invited to the festival as a key-note speaker in The Filmmakers Workshop. The festival set out an ambitious agenda for workshop participants with great panelists. Topics ranged from impact film making to pitching to an expo of the latest camera gear.

Highlights of my trip included a peak into the archive with Mark Madison, the U.S. FWS Historian at NCTC. Here they have many treasures – personal highlights include Rachel Carson’s typewriter, her magnifying glass, along with Victorian style bird dioramas.

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The Messenger screened Sunday evening to a full house. I was accompanied at the Q+A by Bridget Tinsley , an ecologist with the Potomac Valley Audubon Society, who are doing some great work with Chimney Swifts and Grassland birds.

The American Conservation Film Festival Continues Oct 29th and 30thAnother full weekend of not to be missed films! I urge anyone in the area to attend.

The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Wood Thrush

This summer we have had many unusually hot days, and with the heat comes the memory of another very hot summer day when we filmed with Dr. Lyle Friesen and Dinuka Gunaratne in Waterloo, Ontario.

Dr. Lyle Friesen (formerly with Environment Canada) has been studying Wood Thrush in the region of Waterloo since 1996.  These songbirds are in serious decline, but without clear answers as to why this was happening, Lyle knew he had a mystery to solve.

“Since 1970 the population of Wood Thrush in Canada has declined by 85%, that’s just an astonishing number.”

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Our day of filming started with a lucky shot of a Wood Thrush on her nest. We were hoping to capture behavior so we patiently filmed this shot for a long time, waiting for this songbird to forage,  wiggle, eat or sing — any action for the camera! However we ended up in a stand-off.

 

The Wood Thrush knew we were there and simply froze. The only movement we could see was the occasional blink of an eye. She seemed to believe that if she stayed absolutely still we would not see her. This was likely a tactic to defend her nest, which apparently is serious business for a Wood Thrush.

“We found and monitored almost 900 nests and about half of the nests fall prey to predators, yet we’ve never seen a predator at a wood thrush nest.”

Lyle and his team set up a series of infra red camera’s and installed ‘nest cams’ at the nests. Over the course of several years, Dr. Lyle Friesen documented an amazing night-time woodland drama.

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We created a short video documenting the process of Lyle’s research. This video features amazing footage that reveals who the mysterious predator is, as well as their modus operandi.  watch: https://youtu.be/i57Mou6HiEE8

 

What we learn from Lyle’s work is that the world is becoming a less friendly place for Wood Thrush. Predation in itself is a natural phenomenon, but in this case the reasons behind its dramatic increase are anthropogenic. Humans have modified the landscape and upset natures balance — with devastating consequence for Wood Thrush.

 

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