Ghost Bird (2009) - Rotten Tomatoes

Ghost Bird (2009)

Ghost Bird



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It is estimated that between 50 and 70 million Americans pursue bird watching as a hobby, and most of them are people who thrive on the prospect of finding a specimen they haven't seen before. In February 2004, a birder kayaking in an Arkansas swamp videotaped what he believed was a remarkable find -- an ivory-billed woodpecker, a large and impressive creature that was believed to have been extinct for half a century after unregulated clear-cutting of forests destroyed its habitat. The sighting was major news among avian researchers, and Cornell University's Ornithology Lab sent a team to Arkansas in hopes of finding a living ivory-billed woodpecker. Hundreds of bird watchers followed them to Brinkley, AR, in hopes of seeing the great bird themselves, and in a town that had been caught in an economic tailspin, the appearance of the woodpecker seemed like a stroke of remarkable good luck. Soon local entrepreneurs were opening gift shops and motels to take advantage of the influx of birders, and a local barber even devised a "woodpecker haircut." But amidst the excitement came a number of researchers who said that they had little hard evidence that what had been sighted was in fact an ivory-billed woodpecker, leading to a contentious debate among bird fanciers and folks in Brinkley who didn't want to lose their windfall. Filmmaker Scott Crocker takes an in-depth look at the sudden reappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker and its many consequences in the documentary Ghost Bird, which was an official selection at the 2009 Hot Docs International Film Festival.more
Rating: Unrated
Genre: Documentary
Directed By:
In Theaters:
On DVD: Apr 11, 2011
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Critic Reviews for Ghost Bird

All Critics (11) | Top Critics (5)

An unassuming, clear-headed documentary about the hope that heaven and Earth may have actually produced a miracle, at least this time around, and allowed a species back from extinction.

Full Review… | August 5, 2011
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

The movie is impressive for its sophisticated take on blind hope.

Full Review… | September 16, 2010
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Scott Crocker has turned a bird-watching tale into a multilayered story that will fascinate practically everybody.

Full Review… | April 30, 2010
New York Times
Top Critic

Backed by an eclectic soundtrack, Crocker's 2009 doc traces the hubbub around the decades-departed ivory-billed woodpecker, purportedly rediscovered near Brinkley, Arkansas.

Full Review… | April 28, 2010
Village Voice
Top Critic

Thanks to Scott Crocker's crisply edited balance of scientific backbiting, naturalist noodling and a macro-philosophizing of what this possible rediscovery might mean, what could have been a niche-specific doc becomes something oddly compelling...

Full Review… | April 28, 2010
Time Out
Top Critic

Crocker crafts a surprisingly suspenseful tale as he follows the battle of experts on each side as well as the more fundamental tug of war between faith and empiricism.

Full Review… | September 23, 2014
Movie Metropolis

Audience Reviews for Ghost Bird

Good but a tad overlong. Great look, though, at how hope and faith can overwhelm evidence and caution and how a bandwagon mentality can redirect resources away from valuable endeavors to fund a snipe hunt. Hmm...that could be a parable for the war in Iraq.

Michael H.
Michael Harbour

This is a documentary about birdwatching, so it's a little boring. Nevertheless! It's the most interesting bird documentary you'll see this year. It goes like this: Dude thinks he spots the extinct Ivory-Billed Woodpecker in rural Alabama. Bird watchers flock (PUN!) to AL to catch a glimpse. Dude has likely mistaken the extinct bird for your standard woodpecker. Hijinks ensue!

Involving the economic future of a small town, massive federal funding, and sexy ornithologists.

Kate I.
Kate Imbach

"Ghost Bird," the documentary screened at the Tivoli in Kansas City on September 11, 2010, focused on the controversy surrounding the questionable sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker after a 60-year absence. A remarkable discovery that would give hope to those that see the extinction as a tragic cause of events, possibly contributed by an aggressive effort to stock ornithology collections in US universities and museums. The film was an entertaining and exhaustive expose' of the bird's demise.

The film highlights the potential tourism benefits to Brinkley, Arkansas, a depressed area midway between Little Rock and Memphis. The swampy area is a likely habitat for the bird, where business owners and city officials hype the sighting in order to build bird-viewing tourism.

After lengthy explanations on the research of the veracity of the sighting, the film reveals the central cause for the bird's extinction: the clearcutting of hundreds of square miles of old growth forest in an area of Louisiana called the "Singer Tract."

The area "named after the sewing machine company who owned the land was the largest piece of primeval forest left in the South. The logging rights to the Singer Tract had been sold to the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company. The National Audubon Society mounted a campaign to save the Singer Tract but it only accelerated the rate of cutting. The Chicago Mill and Lumber Company had no interest in saving the forest or compromising with John Baker, the president of the National Audubon Society. Baker wanted to buy the rights to the trees and obtained a pledge of $200,000 from the governor of Louisiana for that purpose." (according to an article on the Univ. of Cornell's website)

The same devastating destruction of old forests occurred in Missouri in the 1880's, such that by the "early 1900's, nearly every acre of the vast Ozark forest was cut for firewood, timber and crops," according to a history of Missouri forests. "By the mid-1930s, Missouri's forest and wildlife resources were at an all-time low. The forests were burned and abused. Gravel, eroded from the hillsides, choked the once-clear streams. An estimated 2,000 deer remained in the entire state, and turkeys declined to a few thousand birds in scattered flocks."

What's remains now after long-ago unhindered devastation and destruction are, yes, recovered forests, but also some of the poorest communities in Missouri, like in Shannon County. While these areas in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas have low populations, it's a sad commentary on the mammoth timber and rail businesses that left a land destroyed without much responsibility for cleanup or rebuilding the economies.

M Quinn

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