Filled with stunning visuals, The Messenger is an artfully constructed documentary about the diminishing songbird population, and the race against climate change to turn the tide so we may never see a world without birds. What would that world look like and do we want to find out? Director Su Rynard asks these probing questions, traveling the world to explore recent declines in the songbird population. (JEP: 3.5/5)
Review by Contributing Editor Jessica E. Perry
Directed by Su Rynard, The Messenger is a compelling documentary asking you to “imagine a world without birdsong.” What that world would look like no one really knows. But specialists agree on one thing, it would not be a welcome change to our ecosystem.
Ten billion songbirds die each year, and in migration only half make it back. Almost one and a half billion birds are killed by cats each year, and in many places around the world birds are hunted for sport, adding to the already staggering number of songbird population depletion each year. Rynard seeks to bring this to her viewer’s attention, traveling the world garnering interviews with numerous avian specialists about what can be done.
The film explores the songbird population in relation to the pressing issue of climate change. For some time, songbirds have faced hurdles such as habitat loss and the threat of toxic pesticides sprayed on crops. But newer changes such as disappearing ecosystems in the wetlands, coupled with a changing environment, has caused songbird decline each year for the past fifty years.
We are changing the environment faster than birds can cope with and Rynard presses for a change for the better. Like the canary in the coalmine, the songbirds are telling us something now. Just like effect seen by the near extinction of the tree sparrow in China in 1957—which caused a devastating famine—the extinction of the songbird threatens the larger ecosystem.
Without birds many of the functions of our ecosystem simply would not happen. What does Rynard strive to leave us with? That we need to learn how to change our behavior to stop the declining bird population, because if we do not, the consequence will be total silence. Without birdsong, the residual effects on our ecosystem may be dire.
The Messenger is filled with stunning imagery from different landscapes all over the world, as well as intimate images of bird flight. However, unless you have an intense passion for birds, the documentary may lose you. The message is no doubt extremely important, and Rynard’s warning is one we should heed… But there were parts of the film I could have done without. Did I learn something about the avian field? Yes, definitely. Did I need to see the hundreds of dead birds over and over again throughout the film to prove a point? No, I really really did not.
Middle Photo: Bird flight at night.
Bottom Photo: A songbird at home in his ecosystem.
Photo Credits: Kino Lorber
Yes, pretty much.
Two women take measurements of members of the songbird population, discussing the small birds’ weights and what that result means in terms of food intake and lifestyle.