Audubon at the Movies: A Birder’s Guide to Everything
By Ruth Kear
In A Birder’s Guide to Everything, birding is the launching point for a tender, gently humorous coming-of-age story, as well as a meditation on grief and letting go.
A Birder’s Guide to Everything
Tue, Apr 8, 3pm
Teatro Santa Ana
60 Pesos (Audubon Members Free)
A year-and-a-half after his mother’s death, 15-year-old David Portnoy is still grieving the loss of his mother when his dad decides to re-marry. Even worse, his dad is going to marry the nurse who took care of David’s mom in her final months.
A shy and emotional kid, David has thrown himself into amateur bird watching, following in the steps of his dead mother, “one of the unsung heroes of birding.” He is a member of a birding club at school, which consists of only three members: David, Peter and Timmy.
One day, on his way home from school, David catches sight of a strange-looking duck waddling across the road and snaps a picture. He takes his blurry photo to a famous local ornithologist, Lawrence Konrad, who tells David that he may very well have seen a duck thought to be extinct. Konrad has devoted his life to birding, even lost a leg in the pursuit. He has written a memoir called Look to the Skies, which David has read five times.
The lure of becoming ornithological superstars leads David and his birding buddies to set out on a road trip (on the eve of David’s father’s wedding no less) in pursuit of the purportedly extinct duck. Their destination is a site suggested by Konrad, who soon joins them in the search. Konrad offers the kids valuable insights into birding along with some important lessons on life, but at the same time his presence creates tension among the earnest young birders who worry that he will steal all the credit if they do find the duck.
A well-crafted script; a talented cast that includes Ben Kingsley as the “not-so-saintly sage” Lawrence Konrad and ornithological consultants Morgan Tingley and Kenn Kaufman bring a sense of authenticity to the film and it is clear that the filmmakers took pride in getting their subject matter right. Consultant Kaufman, who also makes a cameo appearance in the film, is a birding legend and the author of Kingbird Highway, the “best book in existence” about what it’s like to be a young birder.
Positive reviews of A Birder’s Guide to Everything have been published by such notables as Variety Magazine, The New York Times, and Roger Ebert.com, but perhaps an audience review from Rotten Tomatoes sums it up best: “Like the birds, it’s worth watching.”