Mixing Sound – a sensory experience of place

In filming The Messenger we travelled to three different continents, and each place we went possessed a unique acoustic and auditory character. From the editing to the final mix, I felt it was imperative that we fully articulate this sensory experience of place and time.

Supervising Re-recording Mixer Daniel Pellerin with Re-recording Mixer Chris Guglick

Supervising Re-recording Mixer Daniel Pellerin with Re-recording Mixer Chris Guglick

As our final sound mix gets underway at URBAN POST in Toronto, we are very lucky to be working with the talented duo of Daniel Pellerin Supervising Re-recording Mixer and Christopher Guglick Sound Re-recording Mixer. These guys make for a super-busy team, as in the last few weeks they have mixed the films “Remember” (Atom Egoyan) and “Milk” (Noemi Weis).  From a practical perspective, this takes a team. So for many months, composer and sound designer Phil Strong has been fine-tuning music, location ambiences and bird song.

Chris Guglick; “The most unique aspect of mixing this film was the scope and range of all the different sounds of birds.  Phil did an amazing job organizing all the sounds which allowed me to take all of the different birds and give them a life on screen. I have worked in many different human languages, but working in the language of another species entirely was something new for me.”

Re-recording Mixer Chris Guglick at Urban Post

Re-recording Mixer Chris Guglick at Urban Post

Mixscreen_tracks

Because our schedule and budget are very tight, Phil was just a day or two ahead of the mixers with his work, sometimes outputting the original music just hours before it was needed in the mix theater – quite the marathon indeed. Importantly, the mix is a creative journey in its own right, as the work is both intense and intuitive.  Daniel Pellerin;

“With every film you have to find the language that suits the film. The tone of the characters, quality of the voices, the sense of unfolding time and emotion of the story.”

 

Joanne Jackson, Producer Left. Su Rynard, Director Right.

Joanne Jackson, Producer Left. Su Rynard, Director Right.

As a director, my work is very nuanced, often contemplative, and layered in both content and context. Sound plays a pivotal role. It is often the aural experience that positions how a scene will be experienced and interpreted. In The Messenger we walk a razor sharp edge between tragedy and joy, dramatic tension and release, optimism and sobering truths. In most cases it is the sound that tips the scale to what the experience will be. This balance is not something that can easily be achieved, but with this team I knew I was in good hands. Daniel Pellerin;

“I love docs that have to do with nature, as the challenge is to make it immersive — putting the audience in the theatre yet creating the feeling that they are not in the theatre. In this film, music and birds are the lead “instruments” and a delicate balance is required.”  This idea is taken a step further by Chris Guglick;

As a sound effects mixer I’m often asked to turn down the sound of birds because they can distract from the action in the film.  This film gave the birds a leading role that could, if executed poorly, distract from the important information being expressed by the other characters on screen.  Finding that balance was key.

Here is a taste of the mix experience. A brief pirate recording of my own film, created on my iphone. Enjoy.

 

The Messenger – World Premiere at Hot Docs

Hot Docs Press Conference

Hot Docs Press Conference

We have some very exciting exciting news.  The Messenger will have it’s World Premiere at the Hot Docs International Film Festival on April 28, 2015.  At the Press Conference, Canadian programmer Lynn Fernie introduced the film eloquently by asking, “Can we, and even do we, want to live in a world without birdsong?” The film garnered a lot of attention at the conference, and Su was interviewed for radio, television and print.  More on the Press Room page of this website.

IMG_6091

Producer Joanne Jackson (left) and Su Rynard (right)

The Messenger is a visually thrilling ode to the beauty and importance of the imperiled songbird, that contemplates our deep-seated connection to birds and warns that the uncertain fate of songbirds might mirror our own.

On one level, The Messenger is eco-alert as art – a skillfully told character first-person p.o.v. about the mass depletion of songbirds on multiple continents, and about the compassionate people who are working to turn the tide. According to international expert Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, who is featured in the documentary, we may have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies fifty years ago.

On another level, The Messenger is an engaging, three-act emotional journey, one that mixes its elegiac message with hopeful notes and unique glances into the influence of songbirds on our own expressions of the soul. For example, a German composer, DJ and bird-watching enthusiast, Dominik Eulberg, incorporates bird-sounds seamlessly into techno music and introduces us to the use of birdsongs in Wagnerian opera.

Dominik Eulberg Composer & DJ_WesterwaldGermany

We meet passionate and motivated people like Michael Mesure, the founder of the Fatal Light Awareness Program, who has spearheaded the treating of skyscraper glass with markers, resulting in a 70% decline of bird deaths. As he says of the movement to switch off lights in empty buildings, ““How often can you say, you flick a switch and a problem disappears?”

We see culture clashes, as in France, where activists run up against hunters of the Ortolan Bunting, an endangered bird that is considered a culinary delicacy. And in the vast prairie lands of Saskatchewan, Dr. Christy Morrissey unravels the mystery behind the sharp drop in the numbers of insect eating birds. She discovers that the smoking gun is likely the same pesticide that is killing honeybees and states, “We are changing the environment faster than birds can cope with.”

But there is an ultimate wild card for songbirds. Turkish ecologist Çağan Şekercioğlu brings us to a crucial songbird site where the distant Mount Ararat looms large as a sentinel for climate change, as its’ disappearing glacier could spell tragedy for the wetlands at its base.

Turkey_Çağan Hakkı Şekercioğlu_Hoopoe

There’s a glimpse of hope for a sustainable future, as Costa Rican coffee farmers learn from ornithologist Alejandra Martinez-Salinas about the benefits of pesticide-free shade-grown coffee. The diversity of shade trees provide a natural habit for migratory songbirds and the birds’ appetite for the destructive coffee berry borer, provides an alternative to agro-chemicals.

Ultimately, The Messenger is about what the birds have to tell us about the state of our planet and of ourselves.

In the words of Peter Marra, of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center in Washington, D.C., “When the bird population starts to decline it’s a cold, it’s a flu that the Earth has. Birds provide an estimate of the integrity of the environment itself. We are part of that environment. We depend on it for our own lives.”

Don’t you think the Indigo Bunting looks amazing on the screen at the Bloor Cinema behind Festival Programmer Lynn Fernie? It certainly gives us a taste of what our birds in night flight footage will look like when the film premieres at this prestigious festival.

The Messenger has three  screenings during Hot Docs.

Tickets can be purchased through the Hot Docs Box Office

April 28 ,  9 PM – Scotiabank Theatre,  259 Richmond St. W.

May 1 – 1:30 pm, Scotiabank Theatre, 259 Richmond St W.

May 3 – 6:30 pm, Innis Town Hall Theatre, 2 Sussex Ave.

IMG_6083

Directed by Su Rynard.

Written by Su Rynard and Sally Blake

Produced by Joanne Jackson, Sally Blake and Martin de la Fouchardière, Diane Woods and Su Rynard

SongbirdSOS is an international treaty co-production between Canada and France, produced by SongbirdSOS Productions and Films à Cinq.

International Distributor: ZED

Songbird Documentary on CBC Nature of Things – March 19

Our team has been working on this multi-faceted project for almost five years and the first of two very different  international co-production documentaries is set to debut for Canadian viewers on CBC-TV’s The Nature Of Things, March 19, 2015 at 8 PM.    

Narrated by Dr. David Suzuki and directed by Su Rynard, The Nature of Things SongbirdSOS is an artfully-shot TV documentary about the mass depletion of songbirds in the Americas. It depicts an alarming thinning of populations that has seen declines of many species since the 1960s.  According to  York University’s  Dr. Bridget Stutchbury, who is featured in the program, we may have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies fifty years ago.

Hazards affecting songbirds include glass-enclosed high-rise buildings that account for up to a billion bird deaths annually, light pollution that disorients birds’ migratory flight paths, lost breeding and wintering habitats from rain forests to wetlands to boreal forests, oil pipelines and farm pesticides.

Pesticides

Tree Swallow in Saskatchewan

There’s unforgettable real-time front line research in SongbirdSOS. Michael Mesure of the volunteer army FLAP  (Fatal Light Awareness Program) Canada shows the toll on birds on a tour of particularly lethal Toronto buildings. Erin Bayne takes us into the Boreal Forest north of Edmonton, Alberta  to witness the impact of industry on North America’s biggest bird nursery.  In Saskatchewan avian eco-toxicologist Christy Morrissey discovers lethal neonicotinoids in the spring wetland water supply, ahead of its annual application by local farmers. In a revelatory sequence, Bridget Stutchbury equips northern Purple Martins with micro-chip backpacks that reveal the secrets of their oddly-non-linear migratory journeys to South America and back.

And there’s a glimpse of hope for the future, as Costa Rican coffee farmers learn from ornithologist Alejandra Martinez-Salinas about the benefits of pesticide-free shade-grown (and bird-friendly) coffee.

Over the course of a year, following the seasons and the birds, Director Su Rynard and the team set out on a journey of discovery.

“We discovered that the causes of songbird declines are many, and the solutions are few,” states  Rynard. “Yet everywhere we went, we met passionate people who are concerned and are working for change – as this is not just about the future of birds, it’s about the health of the planet too.”

SongbirdSOS Productions Inc. is pleased to welcome Bird Studies Canada as a National Outreach Partner for a Social Impact Campaign for this project.

Check out some related stories on the CBC Nature of Things website. 

Press Release about the CBC TV Nature of Things March 19 broadcast

 

 

The Messenger’s Cagan Şekercioğlu’s Environmental Request while Accepting a Prestigious Award

Çağan Şekercioğlu, who we filmed with in Turkey, became the first biologist, ecologist and the youngest person to win the TÜBİTAK Special Science Award recently. The University of Utah professor, photographer, and ornithologist received the award (which is Turkey’s highest science award and equivalent to a USA National Science Medal)  from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a ceremony held in the new Presidential Palace. While receiving the award, Şekercioğlu had a single Eco-Message request: “The biggest award you can give me will be to save from destruction the eastern Turkey’s richest wetland for birds, the Aras River Bird Sanctuary I discovered and where I do my science”. At the same time Sekercioglu gave President Erdogan over 55,000 signatures and 4000 comments he collected with his petition to www.savearas.org.

Cagan. photo with Turkey pres2

At the awards ceremony apparently President Erdogan replied to Şekercioğlu, “Putting 55,000 signatures aside, your word is enough, professor. I will talk to Forestry and Water Affairs Minister Veysel Eroglu about this.”   He also asked Sekercioğlu to return to Turkey to teach.

The Aras River Bird Research and Education Center, founded by Șekercioğlu in 2006, is one of the few long-term ecological research sites in Turkey. With over 65,000 birds ringed (banded), it is the one of two most productive ringing stations in the country.  It is also at the meeting point of Aras River and Iğdır Plains Key Biodiversity Areas and Important Bird Areas, none of which have official government protection.

IMG_0299_Lake K banding hut*

Şekercioğlu is campaigning to stop the proposed Tuzluca dam project and save the Aras River Bird Paradise. The Aras Valley provides critical ecosystem services such as clean water, fertile soil and abundant resources to the area.   Şekercioğlu says  “This is one of the world’s most important wetlands for birds. If the proposed Tuzluca dam is constructed in the Aras Valley, the feeding, breeding and wintering areas for at least 258 bird species and nearly 100 mammal, reptile and amphibian species will be destroyed.”

The valley has 37 animal species threatened or near threatened with extinction. With more research, it is thought that HALF of all land animal species in Turkey will be recorded in the valley.  Birds ringed (banded) and satellite-tracked at this wetland by the conservation group, KuzeyDoğa (founded by Şekercioğlu)  were recorded to migrate to and from three continents and dozens of countries, including Cyprus, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hungary, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kenya, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and Zambia.

Şekercioğlu, who has already received international  awards for his work, including becoming a recognized National Geographic explorer is determined to have Minister Eroğlu keep his word to ensure the immediate cancellation of the Tuzluca Dam project.  View some aerial footage and find out more about the campaign here.

Special thanks to www.change.org for their contribution to this post.

Saskatchewan Scientist Studying Impact of Pesticides

Christy Morrissey is in a race against time to prove that neonicotinoid pesticides are causing steep songbird population declines in the Canadian prairies. An ecotoxicologist at the University of  Saskatchewan, Christy has been researching how these powerful pesticides are seeping into the surrounding wetlands and poisoning the food chain.

We filmed with Christy last year as she collected her first wetland samples. The results were troubling. Of her 80 test water samples, all but two were contaminated with neonicotinoid pestcides. We checked in with Christy to see how her research is progressing this year. Christy and her team collect spring wetland water sample

Christy Morrissey

A portion of her study involves measuring the clutch size and body condition of Tree Swallows in different regions across the prairie. Could there be a connection between weaker birds and pesticides?

Christy and her team are in year three of their Tree Swallow study and are developing a stronger understanding of the birds’ diet. In spite of disruptions in their food supply, the birds maintain their diet of midges and mosquitoes, even if they are in short supply.

“We hypothesize that birds at agricultural sites must work harder to deliver to the chicks,” she said. “They will either increase the number of foraging trips or increase the amount of time spend attending the nestlings.” She hasn’t been surprised to notice that the birds are generally weaker in areas with more intensive agriculture and higher concentration of pesticides.

Pest damage

The flea beetle is an incredibly damaging pest for farmers if left untreated

Her team has also started to use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags on the tree swallows to record the number of feeding trips they make to their nests. This new possibility opens up doors to exciting research opportunities; Christy can now relate the number of feeding trips by each sex to their stress response.

This summer will be a busy and exciting time for Christy but at the same time, troubling. During filming, Christy made an interesting comment about her complicated relationship to her research. “I get excited about the results,” she said. “The fact that there are neonicotinoids in the water, seeing impacts as a scientist makes me excited because it’s interesting. But as a naturalist and even just a mother I guess it makes me concerned that…very little work has been done from the regulatory perspective to address this.”

Page 2 of 3123