BIRDLAND is a heralded DGC (Directors Guild of Canada) film from DRG veteran Peter Lynch who made the successful ARROWHEAD and PROJECT GRIZZLY. The special screening I attended was followed by an extensive Q and A session with director Lynch, his wife, the film’s editor, Caroline Christie and its production designer and Patricia Christie moderated by Canadian director Atom Egoyan.
Described by Lynch himself as a 60’s style European art movie, the film follows an ex-cop, Sheila Hood (Kathleen Munroe) whose marriage is on the rocks. Sheila hides surveillance cameras in her home and watches her husband’s (David Alpay) transgressions, becoming a voyeur of her own life. When the husband, Tom Kale is suspect for two murders, she is forced to question her motives. The script by Lynch and Lee Gowan bring in current events of oil and fracking into the story. If all this sound straight forward, the film isn’t. Lynch’s film is very difficult to follow. When asked about this, the reason given is to keep the audience on their toes. But it seems more an excuse than anything else.
The film was shot in 6 weeks on a minuscule budget with $6,000 devoted to the production. It is therefore not surprising that the film looks so badly edited and confused. To the production designer Patricia Christie’s credit and the Director of Photography, the film looks stylish and expensive. Lynch apparently borrowed artwork from friends and filmed in a friend’s very expensive and plush apartment as well as at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Surveillance is the common thread in the story. Human beings are seen as if living in a birdcage with all their actions observed. The song BIRDCAGE is also performed a few times in the film.
BIRDLAND is too stylish and artsy for audiences to feel for the characters. Besides the story being difficult to follow, the film requires full concentration. Lynch in the film’s defence, said that it is necessary for the audience to get lost in the film. The result is quite a few of the audience ‘politely’ leaving the theatre (including my guest) midway during the film. Lynch says that the film should be watched at one go, maybe on a computer, something that very few directors ever say about their movie.
The plot leads nowhere. Despite having the topic of surveillance on display, Lynch never leads the topic anywhere either, nor does the film contain any clear message on surveillance in the 21st century. Lynch is also fond of repetitive scenes. The one with Sheila looking up at he closed circuit cameras and tapping on the lens is one example. Another is the one with a subway rider listening to her headphones before pressing the emergency stop break as a result of an accident (a victim thrown from the bridge on to the train.)
To the film’s credit, Lynch has made a film that looks expensive despite its low budget. This is not enough a good reason for this terrible film.