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Le peuple migrateur

A cinematic celebration of the amazing biannual migration of birds. This visually stunning movie follows determinedly flapping fowl - geese, storks, pelicans, and others - as they girdle the globe, traveling north in the spring to mate and hatch their young in the long Arctic days, then south in the fall to winter in balmy climes. The images are awe-inspiring: birds flying through snowstorms in the Himalayas, tucking their exhausted heads under their wings on the deck of a navy boat in a storm-tossed sea, waddling across desert sand dunes: it brings home the incredible range of these avian travellers in a dramatic and impressive way.

The French team that conceived and created this movie deployed crews on all continents, spending several years to compile this breathtaking saga. Interspersed with documentary footage are staged scenes featuring several small flocks of birds that were raised from eggs and imprinted from birth onto human keepers. The DVD has a "making-of" featurette that shows the little chicks running after their human "mother"; as they grew, they became used to the presence of people and flying machines such as hot air balloons and ultra-light planes. Eventually, they followed these machines, and their human companions, on flights around the globe, encouraged by shouts of "Allez! Allez! Tres bien!" ("Go! Go! Very good!") In this way the filmmakers were able to catch images of the birds very close up, which makes the whole spectacle that much more immediate and compelling.

There are some poignant moments: a bird caught in a puddle of black guck on an industrial site, ducks shot by "sport" hunters and falling from the sky, a tern with a broken wing struggling to escape waves of crabs on a Moroccan beach (note: they rescued the bird, and the pile of crabs that this sequence ends with are actually eating seaweed). The presence of these images reminds us of the dangers these birds face, but the overall tone of the movie is wonder at the birds' triumph over adversity as they follow the stars and the magnetic fields on epic journeys across the globe, year after year.

In 2002 this film received an Academy Award nomination for best documentary, though it isn't a documentary in the usual sense. It is a gorgeous cinematic achievement, though, weaving a beautiful soundtrack and sparse narration through incredible imagery of nature in all its glory. Highly recommended.

Directed by Jacques Perrin with Jacques Cluzaud and Michel Debats, from an idea by Valentine Perrin. Jacques Perrin narrates, and the music is by Bruno Coulais.

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