Film Review: THE BIRDWATCHER (Canada 2015) ***

the_birdwatcher_poster.jpgDirector: Siobhan Devine

Writers: Roslyn Muir, Roslyn Muir

Stars: Camille Sullivan, Gabrielle Rose, Garwin Sanford

Review by Gilbert Seah

 THE BIRDWATCHER is a film where the characters are almost all women. They are strong women, normal women, trying to live out their lives, mistakes and all. But before males can dismiss the above lines as a feminist film to be avoided, Vancouver-based director Siobhan Devine’s female film, based on a script by Roslyn Muir is that rare female film with good strong and smart male characters.

A social worker, Saffron (Camille Sullivan), dying of cancer knows the state-sponsored fate that can await orphaned older children. She is driven by desperation and determination to find her mother and leave a family legacy to her temperamental teen daughter Lucy (Matreya Fedor) and enthusiastically precocious eight-year-old son Jonah (Jakob Davies). Online investigation turns up Birdy (Gabrielle Rose), a famous ornithologist (THE BIRDWATCHER of the film title) as her birth mother.

Birdy has created a blog as a way of connecting with admirers while avoiding human contact. Her quirks are patiently abided by her devoted and more social husband Finch (Garwin Sanford) an artist who shares her life of birdwatching in the B.C. forest while living out of an R.V. in a camping park. So, Saffron and children arrive at Birdy and Finch’s self-contained, somewhat hermit-like paradise. Saffron eventually reveals to Birdy the reason she is there.

Muir’s script is manipulative at times. When Birdy’s publisher, Matt shows up unexpectedly during the camp buffet, it dos not take a genius to guess that he does not bring good news. This also makes the perfect time for Birdy to be confronted with her birth daughter and for the audience to cheer that Birdy’s pompous world will fall apart. It is also predictable who will end up adopting Saffron’s children after she passes on.

The best lines in the film are Birdy’s mutterings about the birds and their habitats and behaviour. They seem too perfect, like quotations right out of a birdwatcher’s manual.

Despite its flaws, director Devine’s film has a strong female perspective. The women in the film and their relationships are laid out bare – Saffron and her birth mother and Saffron and her own feisty daughter, Lucy. All these are on full display without having to trivialize the male characters – a trap that most female directors with female content films fall into. Saffron’s younger son Jonah is a smart, sensitive kid. Devine spends time writing some fine (and humorous) lines for him, making his character stand out besides being Lucy’s obnoxious younger brother. Birdy’s husband Finch is kind, also smart and a sensitive man.

THE BIRDWATCHER has already been widely acclaimed, with various awards – best film, director, actress and supporting actress awards and nominations at the Indie Gathering Independent Film Festival in Ohio, Toronto’s Female Eye Film Festival, the U.K.’s Southampton Film Festival, B.C.’s Leo Awards and the UBCP/ACTRA Awards. A small film that will likely draw a small audience, THE BIRDWATCHER is by no means a perfect film, but director Devine certainly deserves credit for her debut feature. The film begins a limited run at the Carlton Cinemas, Toronto.


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