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The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill (Special 2-Disc Collector's Edition) - nature documentary DVD review
Rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 5 stars
Featuring: Mark Bittner, The parrots: Mingus, Connor, Picasso, Sophie, Pushkin, Tupelo
Director: Judy Irving   Distributor: Docurama
DVD release: 28 October 2008   Runtime: 300 min. (2 discs)
Format: Collector's Edition, Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English - Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, Dolby 5.1 Digital Surround), Color booklet with an excerpt from Mark Bittner's bestselling book, bonus disc with updates on Bittner and director Judy Irving, music video ("Ballad of the Brooklyn Parrots"), outtakes, flock updates, short films and bonus material (Behind the Scenes; Please Don't Feed the Birds, Urban Legends, Special Message to Connor, Origin of the Flock, Mark Bittner's Home movies, and California Quail), trailer, 2 additional films by Irving (Christmas at the Bait Shop; 19 Arrests, No Convictions), deleted scenes

Bird lovers, animal lovers, people watchers, rejoice: the not-be-missed The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is back with more of everything. More parrots, updates on bohemian ornithologist Mark Bittner and director Judy Irving, plus a slew of other material amounting to nearly five hours of DVD-watching pleasure crammed onto two discs.

For those who've already seen the film, the biggest bonus may be the update on Mark Bittner, the lovable, idealistic, keen-eyed amateur ornithologist who observed, cared for and befriended a flock of wild parrots living on San Francisco's Telegraph Hill. Not wanting to spoil the film's ending for first-time viewers, I'll merely say the ending is somewhat wrenching, so it's good to know what became of Bittner.

What I love about The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the way it busts out of the nature documentary mold to find something both new and old. What's new is that instead of the authority figure cajoling us to be by turns amazed, moved and grossed out be some wild animal or other, we are presented with Mark Bittner, homeless guy. He's a bit like a Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey or Biruté Galdikas, except without the Ph.D., without the nice explorer's clothes (the kind with all the pockets), and with a lot more direct involvement. Bittner was, from the beginning of his adventure with the parrots, as much a participant as an observer. He was invested in the birds-for companionship, emotional solace and nourishment, for spiritual insight. Instead of a wise-guy naturalist, we get a passionate explorer wandering through a cloud of brightly colored unknowing.

And what's old about this story is belovedly so: the down-on-his-luck guy who finds love via a spiritual quest. Although The Wild Parrots is homey (beautifully photographed, it has an amused eye and a funky, folksy elegance), it's nonetheless an epic myth: Man meets other, has soul expanded, and is transformed by the touch of that other.

That "the other," the "alien" intelligence of this story, is a flock of iridescent birds with their own intricate and charming social structure, makes the myth even mightier. In director Judy Irving's hands, the documentary footage assembles into nuggets that both further the story and provide delightful diversions that reveal the characters of the individual birds (Mingus, Connor, and the rest).

Teachers should especially note the potential of this particular edition of the film, but The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is a soul-soaring experience and shouldn't be missed by anyone.
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reviewed by Brian Charles Clark
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