Hot Docs – The Messenger – Su Rynard


The Messenger is a beautiful, thought-provoking film which takes a look at the rapidly-depleting global population of songbirds, and what that likely means not only to the planet, but to our survival as a species, as well. Director Su Rynard deftly takes us all over the world, speaking with various birders and ornithologists about bird populations in their regions of expertise, and no matter what the species, they all have one thing in common: there are far fewer of them now than there were 50-70 years ago, and at this rate, many species could well be extinct within the next 30 years.

That is a horrifying statistic on its own, and while it’s sad that we’d need more incentive than that to do something about it, the simple fact is that our fate is intrinsically tied with that of songbirds, in every country, territory and region of the globe. Every ecosystem exists in a delicate harmonious balance. Insecticides kill a major food source for many birds. And without the birds to help keep the insect population under control, famine exists just over the horizon for us. The number of birds who are killed by light sources left on all over the city of Toronto is staggering, to the point where it is now law for buildings to incorporate some sort of anti-glare protection into their window designs, thus making it it easier for birds to navigate at night. Or, you know, we could just try turning off the lights and conserving energy in one simple flick of a switch, but one step at a time, I guess.

Cats are a huge predator for birds. The number of bird deaths annually at the paws of cats is almost unfathomable. The footage shown through this segment of the film was kind of terrifying, actually, even to someone who has three cats (who all remain indoors, however), but it’s important to keep these things in mind. This is why spaying and neutering is so important, though one could argue that it’s becoming just as important to control the rapid growth of the human population around the world, as well as cats’. However, the contrast between the stunning, slow-motion full colour shots of birds in flight shown throughout the film is perfectly contrasted with the night-vision, glowing-eyed terrors of cats on the prowl.

In the end, what The Messenger successfully demonstrates is how inter-connected we all are, and how our actions need to change soon and in drastic ways, because we are now careening toward our own end. Measures are being taken all around the world to not only bring this information to light, but also to learn what we can about trying to change our course. From tracking the migratory habits of birds, to creating laws that protect them (the French hunters were the most disturbing portion of this film for me to watch, personally), to recording various calls and deciphering not only their meanings, but using them to keep track of numbers, experts across the globe are doing their best to listen to the message the songbirds are speaking to us. As when a canary’s death in the mines told miners when their own lives were in danger, it is in all of our best interests to listen to what the birds are telling us now.

Before it really is too late.

The Messenger screens tonight at the Scotiabank Theatre at 9:00pm, and twice more throughout the festival – Friday May 1, 2015 at 1:30pm (also at Scotiabank), and Sunday May 3, 2015 at 6:30pm at Innis Town Hall.

In addition, the film’s official website can be found here.


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