A documentary by Scott Crocker. Unrated. Plays Monday, November 1, and Wednesday and Thursday, November 3 and 4, at the Vancity Theatre
The small town of Brinkley, Arkansas, with a population of a few thousand, was stagnating in 2005, maybe facing extinction. It was in need of a miracle.
Watch the trailer for Ghost Bird.
How appropriate, then, that its possible saviour would come swooping from the clouds, a magnificent bird already thought to be extinct, one that some people used to refer to as the “Lord God” bird because of the first words out of people’s mouths upon beholding one.
The documentary Ghost Bird recounts the momentous “rediscovery” of the ivory-billed woodpecker—North America’s largest, strikingly coloured and with a huge wingspan—in the swamp forests of southeastern Arkansas. Its much-ballyhooed resurrection plays out against director Scott Crocker’s often poignant portrayal of the revived hopes of Brinkley’s residents. Years of living with boarded-up storefronts (but with a prosperous Walmart just off the interstate off-ramp) appear about to be replaced by an economic revival.
Ornithologists, university search teams, hordes of media types, and unending flocks of curious and hopeful birders have spawned gift shops, a new restaurant or two, and hopes of reopened motels or bed-and-breakfasts. The fact that the only evidence of the ivory bill’s existence are unconfirmed sightings and an inconclusive four-second bite of accidental video doesn’t stem the resurrectionist tsunami.
Crocker’s mix of a spare original soundtrack and atmospheric pop tunes meshes well with his stark shots of second-growth swamp forest, interviews with both excited and bemused locals and scientists, and news clips relating the latest developments in the quest for irrefutable proof of the winged giant’s survival.
Hope still shines eternal, even in the face of increasing scientific skepticism, as the search drags on. A challenging revelation is how one of America’s cherished universities may have unwillingly, at least at first, played the part of a dissembling cheerleader in the whole affair. As one scientist says, “Is Elvis really in the building?”