Hot Docs 2014: I Am Big Bird – The Carroll Spinney Story (Chad Walker & Dave LaMattina

2014_hotdocs_stock_imageThere are times when everything comes to a perfect moment, when a film resonates with you, and echoes not only through the memories in the rooms of your mind, but also through the chambers of your heart. The last time it happened to me was Patrick Read Johnson’s 5-25-77, it happened again the other night, when I sat down in the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema to watch a documentary about master puppeteer, Carroll Spinney, who for the past 45 years has brought the beloved characters of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life on the most famous street in the world, Sesame Street.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I adore my muppets, and all things Henson. There’s an honesty, purity and joy that permeates these creations, and perhaps that is why I chose to never leave those parts of my childhood behind, instead, I’ve chosen to embrace them and make them a part of who I am.

So I was very excited to be afforded this glimpse into Carroll’s life.

For me this movie was like curling up with a good book, or having a chat with a good friend, its something you don’t want to end. I was wrapped up in joy, and though there were good times and bad, it is all still beautiful, heart-touching, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

That’s what this documentary was for me, and I don’t think I was the only one. The audience responded incredibly well to the film, laughing and more than once sniffling at the moments we of Carroll’s life that we have been privy to.


We spend time examining his childhood, the support of his mother, the fear of his father, and the desire to entertain and be a puppeteer, a chance meeting with Jim Henson, and the early days of working on Sesame Street as he struggled to discover Big Bird’s character.

There’s also a beautiful love story. Carroll and Debbie are incredibly in love, and so caring for one another, and whether on-screen or in person, that love flows from them, and can’t help but have a positive effect on those around them.

The film looks gorgeous, the cinematography is top-notch, there is archival footage and photographs, as well as interviews with Muppet performers like Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson, as well as the original cast, all of whom have fond memories and stories of Carroll to share.

Josh Johnson provides a fantastic score which works perfectly with the score, and the occasional animated sequences.

The film is a joy. It was a gift to be able to watch, and enjoy with so many other people who obviously felt the same way.

I couldn’t have chosen a better film to see that night.

In Carroll’s own words, he describes Big Bird as the personification of unconditional love, and perhaps that is why so many people identify with him, or at least have such a strong attachment to him.

For a brilliant and feel-good documentary, treat yourself to some magic. See this one.

It screens this afternoon and tomorrow at 1:30 at the Lightbox, with one final screening at the Revue at 4pm on the 4th.

See it, it is so worth it!




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