The Lost Bird Project: An Artist’s Vision and Tribute
By April Gaydos
You will love The Lost Bird Project documentary film for its ability to touch your soul, bring you to laughter, and provoke thoughts of how art helps us to see what can no longer be seen.
The Lost Bird Project
Presented by Audubon de México Nature Matters Film
Wed, Mar 15, 6pm
Bellas Artes, M. Malo Auditorio
Hernández Macías 75
70 pesos/Audubon Members Free
Both memorable and moving, the film follows sculptor Todd McGrain, who, stirred by stories of the modern extinction of five North American birds, embarks on a passionate mission to create sculptured memorials in their honor at the sites where they were last seen. McGrain’s vision was to bring their vanished forms back into the world, believing that art can touch each of us in a way that ideas and intellect alone cannot.
The film’s pacing, beautiful photography, and moving score is beautifully sculpted by a team of three award-winning artists to form a finely crafted elegy to these gone and nearly forgotten birds. Tucked within is a timeless message of our human connection to nature, which makes it a fitting precursor to Audubon’s Wild Arts Festival, taking place on April 6, which celebrates nature and our connection to the natural world through works of original art created by local artists.
The film begins with a shot of a huge crane delivering a crate to a rocky outpost at the edge of the sea. At that moment we glimpse the gargantuan effort behind McGrain’s Lost Bird Project. We then join McGrain and his wryly humorous brother-in-law, Andy Stern, on their road trip as they search for the locations and negotiate for permission to install McGrain’s human-sized sculptures. Soon we are cheering them on as they scout locations, conduct pitch after pitch, and battle bureaucracy in their effort to gather support for their project.
As we watch McGrain in his studio, putting his hands into a bucket of clay and beginning to form the shape of a bird, we become witness to the artist’s process; we are able to feel his intensity of focus that draws him deep into his subject. As he says, “That heightened attention to form makes it possible for me to be receptive. We’re receptive to the things we open ourselves up to; making sculpture is what opens me up to the world.”
During the passage of the film, we learn about each of the “lost birds,” and the circumstances that led to their eventual demise: the Labrador Duck, the Great Auk, the Heath Hen, the Carolina Parakeet, and the Passenger Pigeon. “These birds are not commonly known,” says McGrain, “and they ought to be because forgetting is another kind of extinction. It’s such a thorough erasing.”
Both McGrain’s project and the documentary film are his way to rescue these birds from cultural extinction—to pay homage and to remind us not only of what we have lost, but to urge us gently to turn these past failures into future successes.