The Messenger Spreads Its Wings and goes on a Road Trip!

by Joanne Jackson

It is a very exciting fall season for The Messenger.   We have just come back from a  fall road trip.   We also just got word about two more awards and another nomination.  There are over 40 fall screenings booked, with more pending, and we’ve had some new media coverage.  We are now taking pre-orders on-line and preparing to release DVD’s and Blu rays, so our Canadian office is hopping.  The full impact of The Messenger’s film release is certainly not known yet,  but we know that outreach and awareness of the pressures facing songbird populations and the potential impact of bird declines on the environment is being recognized by more and more people.  Many have said the film is ‘transformative’ for them.  The potential for our film to make a real difference in society’s conservation attitudes is enhanced by every grassroots discussion inspired by the movie.

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Being on the road with the film is exciting, encouraging and sometimes exhausting. There is a lot of prep work involved and we usually end up working 24-7, but it is really rewarding to interact with local audiences.   We can’t attend every screening so we really appreciate organizations like universities, colleges, Bird Studies Canada, the film societies and conservation groups who amplify our work by hosting screening events and participating in Q and A’s.

 

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Su Rynard with audience in Dominican Republic at DREFF

 

 

Director Su Rynard made a quick but wonderful trip to the Dominican Republic Environmental Film Festival (DREFF) in mid-September, then went to a special screening at Fleming College in the Kawarthas. (not too far from her cottage).

 

 

 

 

This weekend Su is winging her way to West Virginia, where she is a keynote speaker at the  The American Conservation Film Festival (Shepherdstown, West Virginia).

The Messenger is also being featured at The Antigonish Film Festival in Nova Scotia and The Cinema Verde Environmental Festival in St. Augustine, Florida this weekend. (Cinema  Verde has already acknowledged the film with it’s 2016 Whistle Blower Award.)laurel2016_whistleblower

 

Film participant Michael Mesure took time from FLAP’s busy bird rescue work in Toronto to head north to Pefferlaw, with  Producer Diane Woods to attend a special fundraising screening event for a wildlife refuge called Shades of Hope.

 

Social media and community outreach is critical  for us to let audiences know about screenings.  We could not do the outreach work we do without our subscribers and Facebook Fans support and the dedication of our screening co-ordinator Cayley James.

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Cayley liaises with community groups and looks after a lot of the event details. Thanks Cayley!

At the end of September, I went to some Ontario screening events  in Belleville, North Bay, Sudbury and New Liskeard. More about that under the mini-tour heading below.

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More Awards

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On October 11, at the Pariscience Awards Ceremony in Paris, France, the Messenger was awarded the prestigious Prix Buffon from the  ‘Jury Bioversité’.  The award  was presented to our French co-production partners Films a Cinq and ARTE France.

After the film screened at the North Bay Film Festival, the audience poll voted The Messenger as the Favourite Feature Documentary. 

Earlier this year we received the 2016 Carl Nunn Media and Conservation Award from Ontario Nature. The film was recognized because it “raised awareness of the mass depletion of songbird populations around the world.”  Diane Woods and Su Rynard were there to pick up the award.

The Messenger is currently  nominated in two categories at the Dutch International Science Film Festival. Categories:  The NTR Audience Award and the Youth Jury Award.

Stay tuned to see if we have more announcements in November. 

 

Mini-Screening Tour

Before I left to head out on a road trip for a Northern Ontario mini-tour,  The Messenger played for one night at the fabulous Empire Theatre in Belleville.  Jerry Archer from KX96 Radio moderated the September 26 event and I was joined by Peter Fuller, Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory and John Hirsch, Quinte Conservation for a Q and A following the film.

 

Then, on Friday September 30, I started the scenic drive north from the Toronto area.  My first destination was Sudbury, and the drive up hwy 69 with the changing fall colours was spectacular.  The Messenger opened that evening at Sudbury’s newly renovated Imagine Downtown Movie Lounge.  Phil Strong, our composer and sound designer who is a Sudbury native was in the city visiting his family, so it was great he was able to join me for the Q and A.  David Pearson and Chris Blomme from Laurentian University came out to participate in the discussion too.  Thanks to Laurentian Film Studies Prof Hoi Cheu for setting up the sound system and bringing  student volunteers to  help with the event.  A special shout out to the Giles and Strong family members who made it opening night and Lorraine Dupuis who put up movie posters for us.

 

Earlier that same week, I was interviewed by CBC Morning North radio host Markus Schwabe.  You can listen the to that interview here.

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On Saturday October 1, I participated in a panel with other industry producers at the North Bay Film Festival about  ‘getting your film into film festivals’.  The whole thing was streamed live on Facebook, so that was a new experience for me!   It was very encouraging to hear the other producers talk about the great opportunities for filmmaking that are taking place in northern Ontario.  Canadore College’s digital cinematography professor Dave Clement moderated the panel. If you scroll down on our Facebook page to Oct. 1 posts, you can watch it there.

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On October 2nd  we had over 160 people at the festival screening of The Messenger in the impressive theatre at the Capital Centre in North Bay.  Moderator Adam Contant from KISS FM Radio,  introduced me and the film. Afterwards Paul Smylie from Nipissing University and Richard Tafel from the Nipissing Naturalists Club joined us for a Q and A. We had a number of educators who made the trek out on that rainy Sunday morning to see the film, so thanks to them and everyone else for being there to ask such thoughtful questions.

 

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Just before the screening I was interviewed by Linda Holmes of CTV and a clip made it on the Northern Ontario evening news.

When festival co-ordinator Holly Cunningham later informed me  that The Messenger was the top audience documentary choice for the festival, I was a bit stunned. What a lovely surprise and wonderful way to enhance our road trip!

 

 

 

Final Stop on the Tour

 

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Proud to be showing at the Messenger at the Empire Theatre in New Liskeard,  part of the City of Temiskaming Shores

 

Although I have worked in the tv/film industry for over 20 years,  and produced many hours of Television programs,   The Messenger is just the third independent documentary I’ve produced.  It is the first  feature film I’m involved with to have theatrical release, so I was really pleased to wind up the mini-Northern Ontario tour in my hometown of New Liskeard. I still have family in the area, so it was wonderful to share the film with the local community at the Empire Theatre in its full theatrical glory on October 3rd.  Drew Gauley of the Temiskaming Screening Room film society kicked off the event. After the screening we had another interesting Q and A discussion.  The town is located in the ‘Little Clay Belt’ agricultural area of Northern Ontario and there are many farms nearby, so the issue of ‘pesticides’ and ‘free roaming cats’ were hot topics.

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L-R Glenn Scott, Bruce Murphy, Joanne Jackson, Mike Werner, Terry Phillips. Photo by Sue Nielsen, The Temiskaming Speaker

 

The Q and A was moderated by Temiskaming Secondary School science teacher Glenn Scott.

I was joined by Bruce Murphy and Mike Werner from The Hilliardtown Marsh Conservation Centre and Terry Phillips, District Director of the Grain Farmers of Ontario.  Prior to the event,  we had some wonderful local media coverage too, thanks to a Twenty questions article in the  Temiskaming Speaker by reporter Sue Neilsen  and  a Morning chat interview facilitated by CJTT  station manager Gail Moore and  Radio host Jack Morin.

Check out the commercial they made for the film!   Just click on the audio file below.

More Campus screenings are currently taking place, and more are being booked.  Find out where & how here.  Educators and libraries can now order educational copies too.  (with public performance rights) in the new Educators section of the Messenger’s website at www.theMessengerdoc.com

To read additional media coverage about The Messenger check out the  press section of this website. 

Special thanks to Mary Jackson, Darlene Jackson, Jennifer Gravel, Shelley Jackson and Patti Dubois (my sisters and sister-in-law) for helping to promote the screening and assisting me at the screenings.

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Jennifer Gravel in front of the Empire Theatre

Thanks to Telefilm Canada for providing  marketing and promotion assistance for The Messenger.

 

If you would like to contact me about the film, please email joanne@songbirdsos.com

 

GO TWEETLESS on April 12

We’re asking people to go tweetless for a #silenttweet hour on April 12th at 12PM EST, which is Bird Impact Reduction Day – show your support!

Bird Impact Reduction Day is part of National Wildlife Week, put on by the Canadian Wildlife Federation, which runs April 10th through 16th.

Their theme this year is “Giving Wings to Wildlife Conservation.”

For anyone who has seen The Messenger, you are aware of the devastating number of birds that collide with skyscrapers across North America.

In Canada alone, 25 million birds die from collisions annually.

In The Messenger, we document the important work being done by FLAP in Toronto, to track collisions and improve commercial buildings in order to reduce them.

Michael Mesure of FLAP

Michael Mesure of FLAP

For Bird Impact Reduction Day, the Canadian Wildlife Federation has asked commercial buildings to turn off their lights for an evening to support the safety of migratory birds.

GO TWEETLESS!

On April 12 at 12pm EST, we’re asking people to go tweetless on Twitter with us for one hour for the birds. #silenttweet

What would Twitter be without its infamous songbird? The truth is, songbirds are declining at an alarming rate and indicating something much bigger for our planet. The TWEETS are at risk.

So join us as we recognize a moment of silence for our fine feathered friends.

What can you do to reduce collision deaths? See the full list here.

  • Turn off lights when not in use.
  • Draw blinds and/or drapes when working at night.
  • Urge your building manager to extinguish all architectural, landscape and roof-top lighting during bird migration seasons: March through May and August through October.
  • Apply visual markers to your windows.
  • Place bird feeders 10 metres or more from your windows.
  • Keep your cats indoors.

You can read more about the risks birds face from collisions, and how to reduce them, from the Canadian Wildlife Federation and from FLAP.

Join us for a tweetless hour! #silenttweet

The Secret to Filming Wild Birds in Big Cities & “Jungles”

To film The Messenger we travelled across three different continents, as the film takes viewers on a journey from the northern reaches of the Boreal Forest to the base of Turkey’s Mount Ararat to the urban streets of New York – and more. In Toronto, we filmed with FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program). Here, at dawn, during migration season, volunteers patrol the city street looking for dead or injured birds. They document the dead and rehabilitate the wild. Some days are worse than others, as fatalities can range from zero a hundred birds or more.

Our shoot day was a lucky day for the birds, due to the weather conditions and migration patterns – collisions were low. So without much to film, our team headed by Joshua See (cinematography) and the multi-talented Caitlin McManus (sound) packed up their gear and headed home.

However, a short time later, Cait stumbled across a small flock of Golden-crowned kinglets that had collided with a building. Given that the day’s filming had been a bit of a bust – Cait called Josh back to the “crime scene” to film the collision fatalities. To find a group of dead Golden-crowned kinglets is a sad story indeed. These birds have declined by about 2.5% per year since 1966 – this translates into a 67% decline since 1966! Sobering statistics indeed.

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There is a ray of hope in this story.

There was a kinglet that survived, and it was sitting on the sidewalk stunned. Josh managed to get his camera out and ready in time to film this kinglets transformation from stunned to “back in the game” as it flew away. This has to be one of my favourite moments in the film. Watch it here:

We were really happy to see this little guy muster his strength and get back on this way. Golden-crowned Kinglets live in Canada’s dense stands of spruce and fir forests during summer, and when it gets cold they move south to spend winters across the U.S. Let’s hope the rest of his journey was safe.

 

Filming wild birds in the city has its challenges, but what about in the wilderness? This is a question I put to cinematographer Joshua See.

“Filming wildlife, tiny songbirds included, takes a special set of technical skills, nature-knowledge, and patience.”

“From the camera technical side of things you typically need large telephoto lenses and big stable tripods that support the camera’s weight and keep shots steady. You’ll also need strong legs to haul the gear to where the wildlife is!

An important ecosystem that we wanted to capture in The Messenger was Canada’s vast and notoriously thick Boreal forest. Wildlife biologist colleagues of mine often refer to it as the “Boreal Jungle”. With a massive camera slung over your shoulder, and a pack full of lenses and batteries, it definitely seems a fitting term!

The next critical piece is to find the birds you are looking for.

There are two main strategies that can be employed here: sit and wait, or listen and move.

While filming on location in Costa Rica more often than not I was able to identify busy bird locations where he could set up inconspicuously and wait. Flowering trees, ripe banana plants, or a shady trickling stream were bird hotspots.

Joshua See cinematographer, with bird guide Ernesto Carman fine tune the "blind" that kept the camera hidden from the birds.

Joshua See cinematographer, with bird guide Ernesto Carman fine tune the “blind” that kept the camera hidden from the birds.

Our incredible bird guide, Ernesto Carman from Café Christina coffee farm, took director Su Rynard and me to a large and beautiful tree next to an old café in a Costa Rican river valley. There, every night hundreds of Baltimore orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks seek refuge under its canopy. We watched and filmed in amazement as streams of beautiful birds converged on the old tree.

Joshua See cinematographer, with bird guide Ernesto Carman. Filming at  Café Christina coffee farm in Costa Rica

Joshua See, cinematographer, with bird guide Ernesto Carman. Filming at Café Christina coffee farm in Costa Rica

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Back in the Boreal jungle, the best strategy was to listen for the songs of the songbird species we especially wanted shots of, and then to try and locate that male based on his loud song being broadcast through the forest. Having knowledge of birdcall identification proved invaluable.

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It’s also important to consider the time of day: birds are most active at dawn and dusk while the air is cool. Typically mid-day is when bird activity is lowest, and the sunlight least pleasing for getting the most beautiful frames.

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When all of the right factors come together we are able to get a close-up view into the often-mysterious world of songbirds.

Ultimately, the birds are the real stars and should take most of the credit for the beautiful imagery we see on screen. We are grateful for their participation in the production.

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Ottawa Citizens Start FLAP Bird Rescue Initiative

FLAP. Ottawa. fall colour. dead birds Michael Mesure, founder and Executive Director of the FLAP bird rescue organization, which is featured in SongbirdSOS says that many citizens of the city of Ottawa (Canada’s capital city) were shocked and troubled when a flock of approximately 30 Bohemian Waxwings collided with a glass walkway at their City Hall last year.  The sudden and public death of these beautiful birds drew a frenzy of media attention and the interest of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists Birds Committee.

One member in particular, Anouk Hoedeman, was concerned by this event and started on the search for a solution. Although it is rare for an entire flock of birds to hit as in this incident, it is altogether too common for birds to collide with building windows.   It is estimated that up to 1 billion birds die from window collisions each year in North America alone.

Most people have had an experience at home, at the cottage or even at work where they have witnessed a bird dying in this way. These experiences are upsetting and scary, often because people do not realize why birds collide with windows or what can be done to prevent it.

The sheer scope of this issue was brought to the attention of Sarah Kirkpatrick-Wahl at Nature Canada with the release of a series of scientific papers released by Environment Canada in Fall 2013 on the major human causes of bird mortality.

Anouk and Sarah’s separate searching lead them both to FLAP.  (Fatal Light Awareness Program) Over the years, FLAP Canada has received calls from the Ottawa region about birds that have been found, but Mesure knew something was different this time around.  Anouk and Sarah were put in touch and started meeting with others who were interested in finding a solution, including staff at the Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre.

In SongbirdSOS, Michael Mesure states that due to a recent precedent setting court case  in Toronto, it is now illegal for buildings to knowingly attract and cause the death of birds in Ontario.    He says “We’re excited about this new wing of FLAP volunteers gathering in Ottawa so they can make a difference for local and migrating bird populations.  Ottawa is a dynamic  growing city on the banks of an important river system which is a natural migratory bird pathway.   With the increase in new building development , incidents of bird collisions have increased.   It is not surprising that environmental concerns are arising because of this too.’’

This past spring, Anouk and another volunteer, Cynthia Paquin, began daily patrols in the downtown core of the nation’s capital.  They found that the majority of collisions occurred after sunrise, with more birds hitting when it was bright and sunny. Their first season of patrols confirmed a problem with window strikes, so Anouk, Sarah, Cynthia and others began earnest efforts to establish a local FLAP program. This fall, they began building a more solid base of patrollers and drivers to help their efforts.FLAP.Ottawa volunteers

To date the Ottawa Wing of FLAP has recorded more than 300 birds representing about 60 species, including 20 warbler species and threatened species such as Wood Thrush and Canada Warbler. Species collected range from Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to a surprising Barred Owl.

Although many of the birds are found dead, Ottawa Wing volunteers are always thrilled to be able to rescue a stunned or injured bird and have managed to rescue dozens of warblers, kinglets, Brown Creepers, sparrows, woodpeckers and more. They already have a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/FLAPOttawa and on it they have been posting some successful bird rescue videos.

As word spreads about FLAP volunteer efforts in Ottawa,  more calls are coming in about injured and dead birds from office workers and homeowners. The group hopes the attention will get more people involved in this critical bird conservation initiative in Ottawa.  You can contact them at Ottawa@flap.org or 613-216-8999.  http://www.flap.org/ottawa.php

If you want to find out when the SongbirdSOS film featuring the bird rescue work of FLAP will be coming to a movie screen near you, please sign up for our newsletter.

Photos courtesy of Anouk Hoedeman

FLAP recovers three species at risk from bird collisions

Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) just released a sobering news release about three federally listed species at risk that they have recovered from building collisions in Toronto. We’ve written about FLAP on our blog before, they’re an incredible group of volunteers committed to advocacy and rescue work surrounding bird collisions with buildings.

If you’re in Toronto’s financial district in the very early morning of spring or fall, you may spot someone scurrying along the sidewalk carrying paper bags and a butterfly net. That’s a FLAP volunteer, scanning the street for a stunned bird that they can rescue or a dead one they can lay to rest.

So far this spring, those volunteers have recovered a live Red-Headed Woodpecker, a dead Golden-winged Warbler and one live and six dead Wood Thrushes. All these birds are protected under the federal Species at Risk Act and we can’t afford to lose anymore of them.

Last year, we filmed with Keith Pardiek at the Breeding Bird Survey, a joint American-Canadian songbird population-monitoring program. While there, he shared some distressing statistics with us: since 1966 Wood Thrush populations have declined 62%, Red-Headed woodpecker 70% and Golden-winged Warbler 70%.

“These birds play a vital ecological role,” said Michael Mesure, Executive Director of FLAP, “There are many commercially available, aesthetically pleasing solutions that can help to reduce bird collisions with buildings. Urban structures can be made safe for birds.”

We have filmed with FLAP several times over the course of shooting our documentary. The footage is inspiring and we can’t wait to share it with you. The story isn’t all doom and gloom either; there are reasons to be hopeful. FLAP’s advocacy work has led to some especially deadly buildings to be treated with bird-friendly window decals.

The same day FLAP published this news release, The New York Times published a feature about a large-scale research collaboration with New York City Audubon, the American Bird Conservation and Fordham University focused on various types of glass and their ability to deter birds. The goal of the project is to help conservationists and ornithologists understand and prevent this needless carnage.

FLAP Canada is asking anyone who finds a bird that has collided with a building to report the incident on FLAP Mapper – a live web tool that they have developed. Users can easily report a collision on an interactive map, as well as view locations of others.

 

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