For the past five years, Su Rynard has been researching the decline of songbirds after she realized that she was not seeing or hearing many of the birds she used to. The work collected by her and her team have culminated in the feature-length documentary The Messenger. Beautifully shot along the migration routes of the animals around the world, such as Canada, France and the United States, the film attempts to explain the disappearance of the songbirds and the impact that it has on our ecosystem.
Why is it called The Messenger?
In the past, humans have looked to the flights and songs of birds to foretell the future. These days, we study birds because they’re so linked to the environment. We know that when we look to birds, they have something to tell us — [for example], when canaries were used in coal mines as an indicator for the health of the miners: if the canary fell off its perch and couldn’t sing anymore, it meant that the methane gas levels had risen to a toxic level and that the environment was no longer safe, that their lives were in danger. Birds are the environmental indicator now out there and in a way, it’s the world that’s the coalmine, so to speak. They are telling us something about the status of our environment.
How did you and your team prepare to make the movie?
This entire process of the film took about five years. It was about two to two-and-a-half years in development and that includes raising the money to make the film, but also doing a lot of research. We wanted to get two spring migrations, so we shot it over 14 months because, one: we were travelling, and two: we wanted to catch some of the work that the researchers were doing at different phases and in different places.
What was your personal experience while filming the movie?
It’s a real privilege when you’re working on a documentary to be let into someone else’s world and to have that great access to these different places and people. I think my favourite part was always stepping into something completely extraordinary that I normally would never do, like being in very remote places in Turkey, where we had to sleep in village houses. It’s like you’re getting this special-guided tour into a world that just unfolds for you.
What else will you be working on in the future?
I don’t have another project lined up. This one has been so consuming and it will be for some time. It really took five years of my life and the work has been very intense. We’re actually teaming up with Bird Studies Canada as a social impact partner and will be taking the film on a North American tour, so I think it’s going to occupy me for some time.
I would vote for the whip-poor-will because it’s the sound of the night. It’s just so extraordinary to hear that bird. It’s not a songbird, so it’s not in our film, but it’s one that’s really disappearing. I have heartache for that loss. I just remember as a kid falling asleep to the sound of a whip-poor-will. It’s a great, great sound.
The Messenger will premiere at the Hot Docs International Film Festival on April 28 in Toronto. Learn more about the documentary on its production company website:http://songbirdsos.com.