Ghost Bird Reviews

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September 12, 2010
"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.
December 9, 2011
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.
July 28, 2011
any story about the ivory billed woodpecker always catches my eye so i've been highly anticipating this doc ever since i heard on NPR a few years ago that it was being shot. it did not disappoint - beautiful HD of the arkansas swamps, fun interviews with the locals, illuminating interviews with ornithological giants (sibley!), and just the mystery of it all just totally captured me. love it.
June 19, 2011
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.
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