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‘Where is the bird? We must go find the bird’

Q&A with Scott Crocker, director of ‘Ghost Bird’

POSTED: January 27, 2011 12:30 a.m.
/Courtesy Ghost Bird website

'Ghost Bird' will be screened Thursday at the Elachee Nature Science Center.

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Scott Crocker is the director of "Ghost Bird," the documentary focused on the search for the elusive and believed-to-be-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker in the wilds of eastern Arkansas. He spoke by phone last week with The Times' Keith Albertson about the film, which is being screened at 7 p.m. Thursday at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville.

Question: Where did you get the idea for this project?

Answer: The story sort of approached me when I saw it jumping off the science pages. It had fascinating elements to it. So many things were intersecting in this: the bird, politics, money, culture and the environment. In the end, it looked like an opportunity to explore all those things in one particular bird that historically has been iconic. It represents the legacy of our natural environment and also the loss of other species and loss of (the ivory-bill) as well.

The more I read about it, the more captivated I became in all the different interests. The bird is a mirror that reflects back to us ... the darkest grim reapers of creation, now that we're sitting in one of the largest waves of species extinction.

Q: Did you intend to focus on the town as well when you started the film?

A: Not being a birder, having trained as anthropologist, I was interested in the human aspect of the story as well as the environmental side. I was trying to understand why this bird made us sit up and get so excited as a nation. ...

I couldn't imagine telling the story without including the town. The town becomes kind of a stand-in for the rest of us who are not scientists and who are not government funders and who are just watching this story. And it's in Brinkley's backyard. We can all kind of identify with them and their hopes and aspirations that the bird is there, that they can capitalize on it.

Another story has to do with our human resources that have been going extinct. Brinkley once was ... a major crossroads with a much bigger population. It's bittersweet in light of the decay they've already experience. They're different from a small town that was never anything, and now it is trying to crawl back to some semblance of being a more culturally rich town.

Q: How did the people of Brinkley react to the film? What was your interaction with them?

A: Part of my interest in telling the story and including the town is that they had already been inundated by the press, so the people who were comfortable in front of cameras had already become names in their own right. Of equal interest was in telling the story of the town and those who had become characters in their own story, many of whom were shaping the story. There's something very American about that. And it's timely with more and more reality TV and everyone getting used to looking behind the cameras. Most of them were really comfortable being on camera, and knew who they were as characters in the story already.

Q: Do you foresee the film playing to a wider audience? Where has it been distributed so far?

A: It has played in 70 cities, mostly art houses and community screenings, the smallest of which are in local libraries. ... It's run the gamut. It's not going to be a theatrical release, but we hope to have it on TV in the coming year. And it will be screening on Air Canada Flights.From an art film perspective, the film has a lot to offer.

The idea of what a documentary wants to do is tell you things, and this film tells you things, but still leaves you wondering about a lot of things. There are places in our lives where we get information, and we don't always make the connection that all that information isn't really knowledge, and that there is misinformation. It's good to be left wondering about things and questioning.

Q: Based on your experience in Brinkley, do you think the ivory-bill still exists?

A: I'm more confused about that than when I started. At first I doubted the evidence, but I've had more people come up to me after screenings and swear they've seen the bird, some of them certified ornithologists at universities who have no stake in putting their name out there. So I gotta tell you, if I had more time, I'd go look for it myself.

What it comes down to is: Where is the bird? We must go find the bird.



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