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.

 

The Messenger Nomination for the 6th Annual CCE Awards

It was just over a year ago that we locked picture on The Messenger. Today we are so proud to share this news.

Congratulations to Eamonn O’Connor and The Messenger editing team, Sally Blake, Carole Larson  for their well earned Canadian Cinema Editors Award “Best Editing in Feature Documentary” nomination.  We owe a big thanks to our inspired Editing Guru Ricardo Acosta, our technical wizard Andrew Kines and Mark Alberts for the beautiful graphics and compositing work.

Read more about editing The Messenger in our Director’s blog.

THE MESSENGER Picture Lock: 120 hours of footage – One year later

Birdsong: The Forest Bird in Wagners’ Siegfried

The Forest Bird in Siegfried, not unlike today’s songbirds plays a role in warning Siegfried of impending danger.

Birds have something to tell us indeed.

I recently had the opportunity to see Wagners’ Siegfried, one of the four operas that combine to create the epic “Ring des Nibelungen” or Ring Cycle. Wagner took his inspiration for The Ring Cycle from Norse mythology and an ancient German epic called the “Nibelunglied.” The Ring Cycle took more than 20 years to write, and was first performed August 16, 1876.

While I had seen Siegfried ten years ago, the experience was more significant after making The Messenger. What made it so special this time round was the role of the Forest Bird.

The Forest Bird is an actual character in the drama and has its own musical themes. Much of the Siegfried score occupies a somber yet beautiful low, bass tonal range with the exception of the Forest Bird — a musical motif that soars beautifully over the dramatic, emotional music.

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In act 2 Siegfried takes in the tranquility of the forest around him. Here, the audience is treated to a series of birdcalls, which Wagner is said to have modeled on actual birdsong. The oboe plays the first and it is answered by a second on the flute. Next the clarinet takes up a melody. This melody on the clarinet later becomes incorporated into the soprano vocal lines of the Forest Bird character.

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Humans have been inspired by birdsong for hundreds of years, and there is evidence to suggest that music pre-dates language in humans. In The Messenger we playfully re-purpose the musical motif of Wagner’s Forest Bird. Framed within a scene featuring contemporary techno artist and DJ Dominik Eulberg we created our own unique operatic moment with real forest birds singing along with the symphony. You can watch a short excerpt of the scene here.

 

Once we believed that birds were messengers between humans and the supernatural world. We would interpret the flight and songs of birds to foretell the future.

The Messenger opens with the voice over quoted above. Herein lies another interesting connection between The Messenger and Wagner’s Ring Cycle – as the Forest Bird does indeed have something to tell Siegfried. Like today’s songbirds, who in their very decline warn us of the environmental dangers we all face, the Forest bird warns Siegfried of danger, and by listening to the bird he is saved from a betrayal that would have cost him his life. Birds have something to tell us indeed.

Watch an except of The Messenger with Dominik Eulberg on Youtube.

Sneak Peek Preview: Dominik Eulberg

 

The Messenger nominated for Canadian Screen Award for Best Cinematography in a Feature Length Documentary

Su Rynard, Canadian cinematographer Daniel Grant,  Joanne Jackson and a very stoic (cardboard cut-out) of CSA host Norm Macdonald

The most popular question we get at screenings of The Messenger is how we managed to capture these small and incredibly agile songbirds on camera. The simple answer, if you dare to call it that, is that it took years of planning and an incredible team of hardworking cinematographers. Collaborating with director Su Rynard to bring their shared vision for The Messenger to the screen were Daniel Grant, Amar Arhab, Laurent Charbonnier, Chris Romeike, and Joshua See.
This week, The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television recognizes that work with a nomination for The Messenger in the Best Cinematography in a Feature Length Documentary category at The CSAs.

Messenger Cinematographer Amar Arhab, draining the water out of the water jugs we used as counter weights for our high angle shots, while at the same tie trying to squeeze in a smoke break. That’s the truth of our shooting schedule — we never really stopped moving.

Messenger Cinematographer Amar Arhab, draining the water out of the water jugs we used as counter weights for our high angle shots, while at the same tie trying to squeeze in a smoke break. That’s the truth of our shooting schedule — we never really stopped moving.

Sometimes we had more than one crew filming simultaneously in different locations. Joshua See camped out in the Boreal forest, trekked to Costa Rican coffee farms and managed to capture footage of birds in Toronto, while the main crew was elsewhere.  Check out a previous blog post revealing some of his photography secrets. 

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

 

Camera Assistant Lori Longstaff and cinematographer Daniel Grant filming with Phantom camera inside the wind tunnel at AFAR

Camera Assistant Lori Longstaff and cinematographer Daniel Grant filming with Phantom camera inside the wind tunnel at AFAR.

The task of capturing The Messenger’s songbirds in flight for the film couldn’t have been accomplished without the work of our talented cinematography team, but we also have the scientists and staff at Western University’s Advanced Facility for Avian Research (AFAR) to thank. Without access to their expertise and hypobaric climatic wind tunnel we could not have captured The Messenger’s stunning slow-motion sequences of the birds in simulated night flight.

The 800-frame-per-second footage, captured with a Phantom camera by lead cinematographer Daniel Grant and his team became the unifying force for the many stories in our film, and even provided the beautiful photography for our movie poster. You can watch The Messenger documentary crew filming in action at AFAR in our amazing short “behind the scenes” short documentary and read about it here.

And don’t forget to tune in to The Canadian Screen Awards on CBC, Sunday March 13th at 8 pm to cheer on our talented team!

The Messenger is an international co-production between Canada and France.  

Produced by SongbirdSOS Productions Inc. and Films à Cinq.

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television has been celebrating Canada’s talented film, television and digital media professionals since 1945. Founded by the academy, The Canadian Screen Awards (Formerly the Gemini and Genie Awards) celebrate Canadian productions and talent who excel in front of the camera and behind-the-scenes. The awards have evolved from humble, pre- beginnings at Ottawa’s Little Elgin Theatre to the star-studded red carpet event taking place at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts Sunday, March 13th at 8 pm (ET).

The Messenger is coming to select Canadian cinemas!

We are thrilled to share the exciting news that The Messenger is being released in select Canadian cinemas!  Please share this news with your family and friends, so they see the film in its full theatrical glory.  

Toronto, ON    February 18, 2016 – On the heels of a successful American theatrical launch in 40+ markets, THE MESSENGER’S Canada-wide theatrical release kicks off Friday, February 26, 2016 at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto.

Nominated for a 2016 Canadian Screen Award for Best Cinematography in a Feature Length Documentary, THE MESSENGER, an international story with high stakes global consequences, mesmerizes audiences with stunning slow-motion sequences of songbirds in night flight – all the while chronicling the struggle of songbirds worldwide to survive the turbulent environmental conditions brought about by humans.

Akin to the disappearance of the honeybee or the melting of glaciers, the film argues that the global demise of songbirds signals an uncertain shift in an already fragile ecosystem and explores our deep-seated connection to birds, while warning that the uncertain fate of songbirds might mirror our own.

 

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“Humans share an ageless bond with birds, their song and their persistent presence in our lives. In ancient times, humans looked to the flights and songs of birds to predict the future. Songbirds are disappearing at an alarming rate, and this points to changes in our world.  Now is a critical time for our climate and ecosystems. Today, once again, birds have something to tell us, and I wanted to amplify their message.”   

~ award-winning Toronto director Su Rynard 

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Moving from the northern reaches of Canada’s Boreal Forest to the vast prairies of Saskatchewan, the wetlands of Turkey’s Mount Ararat, and to the busy streets of urban Toronto, the scientists, activists and bird enthusiasts featured in THE MESSENGER bring us face-to-face with the beauty of these airborne music-makers and with the remarkable variety of human-made perils that they face: the destruction of our forests, our lethal architecture, predatory pets, human gourmets, industrial agriculture methods and the alarming use of pesticides. All of which are causing the disappearance of songbirds at a disquieting pace. At the same time, THE MESSENGER vividly mixes its elegiac message with hopeful notes and unique glances into the influence of songbirds on our own expressions of the soul.

 

 

Bayne

 

 

A Hot Docs 2015 Top Ten Audience Favourite and winner of the Best Conservation film at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, THE MESSENGER leaves viewers with a profound appreciation for the billions of birds with whom we share our communities and our planet – and with hope for our collective ability to turn the tide.

 

 

 

 

Canadian Theatrical Release:

Set to release in the following markets:

Friday Feb. 26 | The Carlton Cinema | Toronto, Ontario

Sunday  Feb. 28 | The Loft | Cobourg, Ontario

Friday Mar. 4 | Globe Cinema | Calgary, Alberta

Friday Mar. 4 | RPL- Theatre | Regina, Saskatchewan

Friday Mar. 4 | Princess Cinema | Waterloo, Ontario

Sunday Mar. 6 | The Roxy | Uxbridge,  Ontario

Tuesday Mar. 16 | Broadway | Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Friday Mar. 18 | ByTowne Cinema | Ottawa, Ontario

Friday Mar. 18 | The Vic Theatre | Victoria, BC

Saturday Mar. 19 | The Metro / Garneau | Edmonton, Alberta

Sunday March 20| The Rio Theatre | Vancouver, BC

Monday April 11 | Cinema du Park | Montreal, Quebec

The Messenger is also screening at upcoming Film Festivals in the US and Canada including Wakefield PQ, Kingston ON, Belleville ON, Salt Spring Island BC and  Haida Gwaii  BC.   If you don’t see your city or town on the list, you can request a screening here. 

Check here for American cities where the film is playing.

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2015, 90 MIN
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 a Canada/France co-production, Produced by SongbirdSOS Productions and Films à Cinq. Meet the creative team behind the film. 

The Messenger is being released in Canada with promotion and marketing assistance from Telefilm Canada and the support of The First Weekend Club.  National outreach partner is Bird Studies Canada.  Film Funding partners here. 

For downloadable press materials, please go to the Press kit section of  the company website.

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For more information, to request a screener for movie review purposes, photography and to set up interviews, please contact:

 

LIFT PR | Erin Bodley | erin@liftpr.ca | 416.825.2941

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