Finally the time had come for me to take in a film that was not a documentary, but a narrative feature. (Fiction! Acting!) And lo and behold, what is Woodpecker? A spoof of a documentary! My 2008 film fest experience has developed a definite theme.
Woodpecker is arranged around the 2004 sightings of the thought-to-be-extinct Ivory Billed Woodpecker in the swamps of Arkansas. The film comes off as a sober-faced documentary at first, featuring interviews with the mayor, townsfolk, and birding experts. Then the film settles on two bird watchers -- one, a silent doofus; the other a nutty poet/stalker -- who've come to spot the elusive bird.
The point? "Much like the bird itself," the filmmakers write on the film's website, "Woodpecker explores the intersection of fact and fiction, manipulating our notions of documentary and narrative techniques within a tragic comedy about hope, perception, and some very very strange birds."
Yes, the film will have you wondering what's real and what's a hoax -- though I would have found it more compelling if the two birdwatchers hadn't been such nitwits. Woodpecker was enjoyable and funny, but even at 87 minutes, it dragged a bit. I felt like something over and above "is this for real?" needed to be going on.
The birds themselves are incredibly beautiful; their extinction appalling. Learn more about the actual search for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker from a research project by Cornell University.
I was shocked that the Monona Terrace theater - not a huge venue -- was barely half full for its Saturday night showing.