THE PLIGHT OF THE ALBATROSS
Written by Wendy Buss
To see 3 minute ALBATROSS fil trailer go to htpps//vimeo.com/218502282
To see the full length movie go to www.albatrossthefilm.com
I recently stumbled across this amazing online media channel called UPLIFT CONNECT ( www.upliftconnect.com ) described by its creators as having been created by a group of positive change makers promoting and celebrating ‘love in action’ and positive change initiatives around the world .
This wonderful channel offers free viewing of a range of the most inspiring and thought provoking full length films and documentaries, podcasts and articles on a range of inspiring topics .
I pounced upon this treasure ( I believe its home base to be somewhere in the Northern Rivers Areas of Northern NSW ) feeling like a kid in a candy store reckoning I was in for a few late nights as I perused this unexpected banquet of bounty of free wonderful thought provoking progressive films and documentaries …
I went with what appealed and spoke to my heart most in the moment and selected a wild life documentary called ‘Albatross ‘ created by film maker Chris Jordan and his team .See www.albatrossthefilm.com
Laysan Albatross Pair
Make no mistake this film is truly a love story .This turned out to be such a beautiful moving poetic, if sadly poignant and heart breaking film which not only chronicles the life cycle of the Albatross but graphically portrays its terrible modern day plight being that the survival of the Albatross and other seabirds is under terrible duress as a result of the scourge of plastic rubbish polluting and floating indiscriminately around in the worlds oceans particularly the Pacific Ocean surrounding Midway island roughly half way between North America and Asia where this this movie was filmed .
Made from over 4000 hours of film shot, over a period of 4 years and 8 successive visits to Midway Island during each successive visit the film makers attuned themselves and sank more deeply into the experience of being and living daily with these magnificent birds .Jordan says “my wish was not only to tell the story of the Abatross from a factual stand point but to convey the intensely vivid ,sensual ,emotional and spiritual experience of being with the Albatross” He certainly does this in this remarkably powerful poetic and deeply moving film
Albatross mating ritual on Midway Island
Personally The Albatross has long been something of a totem creature for me moved and intrigued and inspired as I am by their sleek streamlined bodies their phenomenal wingspans, the their air of mystery and inscrutability and the fact that they mate for life and their unconventional global traveller ways
I once asked of Spirit to be able to see the world through the eyes of an albatross and felt I was momentarily gifted with distinct impressions of soaring and gliding silently through cold clear pristine air gliding effortlessly over endless expanses of cold white snow fields and icy canyons Page 3
The film maker Chris Jordan and I might be kindred spirits I reckoned as he himself ponders the question several times in the movie of wondering what it must be like to experience the world through the eyes of an albatross
Midway Island is famous for its strategic location in the battle of Midway in the 2nd world war and now abandoned as a military outpost contains many remnants of the machinery of war now neglected and disused rusting and rotting lay scattered over the island This creates a poignant backdrop for this troubled tale of the modern day plight of the Albatross and indeed what must surely be a similar fate for many more species of seabirds amongst the hundreds of thousands of birds who make their home on the island .The remnants of war left behind on the island reminding the film viewer of the tenuousness and fragility of life and also a lingering reminder of man’s for destruction
Albatross nesting on Midway Island
The filmmaker Chris Jordan begins his tale by remarking that the various species of birdlife which gathers on Midway Island coexist in a spirit of great trust and sociability both with one another and with the filmmakers and other very few humans on the island . A trust which he describes as deepening each successive year of his visit Indeed this is made evident through extraordinary cinematography where the film makers are able to get up really close and personal to capture remarkably intimate
glimpses into the life of an albatross
. Chris Jordan eyeball to eyeball with Albatross chick
The film opens with a mystical montage which I interpreted as a reference to the matrix and interconnectedness of all life where the remains of several dead albatross are ceremonially displayed either with what seems like a stupendous amount of plastic rubbish objects arranged in a circle interspersed with wild flowers around them or else contained in the skeletal remains of their rib cages .
This does indeed set the sombre tone of the movie and create apprehension for what lies ahead .We know by the opening of the film we are somehow in for a beautiful and poetic but confronting and disquieting tale
Autopsy of dead Albatross revealing plastics lodged in its stomach
Beyond this sombre beginning though we are led into the documentary storytelling of the story of the Albatross life cycle filled at first with excitement amazement and hope .
The filmmakers chronicles the lifecycle of the albatross returning to their island of their birth in this case Midway island to find a mate and to nest and lay eggs and so perpetuate the cycle of life .
The mating season has arrived and all over the island the albatross pairs are engaging in mesmerizing synchronised mirroring dances with a bird of the opposite sex in order to attract and bond with their mate
It is of value to point out at this stage that Albatross once they have found their mate do mate for life .Finding one another and coming together each breeding season to mate, lay eggs and hatch and nurture their young .An Albatross is actually able to live up to around 60 years of age
Although it has to be said the mating dance rituals of the albatross are captivating and mesmerizing to watch at normal filming speed, the film makers perceive based on the theory that creatures with smaller brains think a lot faster than we do feel that if they slow down the filming of these dances by one sixth of normal filming speed at a speed believed to match the birds thinking patterns we might better understand and appreciate what those strange jerky movements are all about .Indeed once filming is slowed down all those bonding dances and mating rituals and subsequent nest building behaviours do take on greater meaning and significance and reveal a dance and a journey of communication of such tenderness and obvious affection and trust between the two birds and commitment to the shared undertaking of parenting it becomes at times dare I say it embarrassing to watch.
One sees in all this affectionate solicitude which the birds display towards one another after the mating and bonding dance is completed and the deal to stay together has been sealed, this tender and affectionate nuzzling and grooming between the couple as they nestle down together .
Like any good movie maker who aims to build and tell a story so that we truly care about what happens to the chief protagonists in the movie ,Chris Jordan holds nothing back in weaving his spell
We witness the committed undertaking of shared parenting and cant help but feel awe and wonder of the dedicated commitment of these two bird souls who have found their intended counterpart for the next chapter of life’s unfolding journey which is truly inspiring and beautiful to watch. Like any guests at a wedding or ceremonial pairing where the viewer guests are invited through skilful cinematography and heartfelt storytelling into the innermost sanctum of this couples daily rituals as a tightly knit and well coordinated team as they prepare for the arrival of their new kid we the viewers cant help but wish them well and are excited and filled with hope for their future.
What can possibly go wrong ??
What indeed ??
Eventually the carefully planned for day arrives and the female lays her egg Once the egg has been laid the parents will then take turns in sitting on it and will NOT budge while their partner heads out to sea for up to a week to fish and feed themselves .The dedication to their task is awe inspiring .The bird sitting on the egg will commit to his/her post through all weathers wind rain and hail and will suffer the perils of hunger starvation and dehydration until their partner returns to engage them in a changing of the guard to relieve them of their posts so they too can head out to sea to feed themselves
The hatching of the egg itself is another study in instinctive canny and tender parenting As the young chick hatches out of its shell the parents hang back watching solicitously but not intervening except to ever so gently nudge and reassure the chick.
With their powerful beaks one would think they could easily demolish the shell and so assist the chick in its arduous undertaking to break free but instead they hang back leaving the youngster to free itself ,perhaps encouraging it to develop the strength it will need in its legs as it grows and perhaps also because given their powerful beaks there is a risk they might injure their offspring if they interfere .
As the new chick emerges surrounded with loving solicitude from both its parents we are filled with wonder and optimism .A new life has begun
Once the chick is born the parents take turns in heading out to sea in order to catch fish to feed their baby and as the baby grows the parents will leave their chick alone on the island as they both head out to sea to forage for feed .
An Albatross in order to feed skims low over the oceans surface and will go for fish swimming close to the surface scooping them up in its beak and can actually fly 1000s of miles before it catches enough fish to fill its belly which it plans to regurgitate as food for its young
.Sadly though at this point the film maker needs to return to the darker underlying sad and distressing premise of the film because sometimes what the albatross mistakes as fish swimming on the surface of the ocean is not actually fish at all but dangerous toxic and plastic waste .
See Pic above (Dangerous plastic toxic objects being transferred to the young chick )
While this ingested plastic sits in the stomach of the adult parent without adverse effects for now in this eventual feeding of its chick it is in the very act of trying to nourish its youngster that the adult bird unwittingly inflicts terrible danger on it and sadly in the act of regurgitating the fishy cocktail to feed its youngster it ends up transferring these dangerous items which can prove to be lethal to the young bird. In one heart rending scene the filmmakers camera gets in close enough to film the parent bird in the act of feeding its chick and we see these bright blue plastic objects embedded in the fishy mass being regurgitated and transferred to the young chick sadly with lethal consequences as that tiny stomach cannot process this hard undigestable material and the tiny chick ends up starving and dying a slow agonizing painful death .
Dead bird filled with plastics
The dying scenes are horrible and the film maker clearly a very compassionate guy indicates he has been witness to thousands of birds dying on Midway island in this manner He must surely want to put the chicks out of their misery .Any sane compassionate person would .However for the purposes of the message he feels compelled to portray through his film he keeps the cameras rolling and we are witness to the chicks unable to digest or dislodge these items from their stomachs dying a very slow and painful death and as we see later in the film the tragedy doesn’t end there
For the albatross chicks on Midway island that do make it though as they grow they develop into a bundle of fluffy brown feathers and look remarkably cute In the movie the island seems suddenly filled with these curious fluffy brown cookie monster like creatures and the parents are kept very busy with feeding their rapidly growing young who remain alone on the islands whilst their parents go foraging out to sea Page 12
Baby Laysan Albatross chick
At a certain point though as the chicks start to lose their baby down and emerge as sleek elegant grey and white maturing adults the parents suddenly decide that their parenting work is done and leave the island heading out to sea and returning to the sky to circumnavigate the globe leaving the chicks to fend for themselves
Poised on the brink of young adulthood, here the chicks once again stand on the brink of uncertainty as to whether they will make it as they have now to become mobile quickly in order to feed themselves.
Albatross exercising its wings in preparation for flight
It is amusing to watch the young albatross waddle down towards the waters edge balancing these huge ungainly wings which must each be six times its body width. Here they will build their wing strength by testing them against the coastal breezes in readiness for take off on their maiden flight and the long journey ahead .
Long indeed for unbelievably the young Albatross on its inaugural flight will circumnavigate the globe and will keep flying for the next 3-5 years resting only on the oceans surface before it touches land again to find a mate and so continues the albatross life cycle .
Once the young adult preparing for flight feels ready for take off the birds then engage in a ritualistic emptying of their stomachs possibly so they can be as light and aerodynamic as possible and right there at the edge of the water they regurgitate and spit out anything left in their digestive systems
It is here that another terrible moment of truth must be confronted because if there is anything sitting in their stomachs which cannot be dislodged or even worse in the act of dislodging gets stuck in the birds windpipe then these poor unfortunate young adult albatross are doomed once more to dying a slow agonizing painful death all the more poignant and heart breaking as they stand there poised on the brink of a new chapter of life adventure one of breathtaking freedom and adventure for which their whole life trajectory has been leading up to such a moment ….it seems unbelievable that such a life so filled with promise which we have been witness to evolving should be cut short .As many of the young albatross achieve lift off and take to their skies viewers might be inspired to cheer. in celebration of such a majestic and awesome sight
Those who make it
Sadly those birds which are shackled and hobbled by plastic items either stuck in their throats or stomachs trying to take flight remain on the ground and get left behind or may by this time be even struggling to breathe…..it is heart rending and appaulling to watch as the destiny of various birds becomes slowly apparent The dice have already been rolled at this point as tothose hwo will make it and those who don’t One bird failing to get the lift off he needs lands in the water and eventually drowns .He is washed up to shore with these incredibly huge wings spread out beside the dead bedraggled bird appearing tragically as long dark angles wings Another couple of these unfortunate adults are destined to slowly choke or starve to death
Those who don’t
Once again the filmmakers must surely be tempted to rush forwards and do what they can to put these dying birds out of their misery .Indeed in one scene as the movie maker confronts another dead or dying bird we see him huddled over his head bowed in grief It must be agonizing for them not to be able to step in but they keep the cameras rolling staying aligned to the purpose for which the movie was intended .
It is hard enough to watch the little chicks dying but to witness these beautiful fully formed young adult birds we by now have become emotionally invested in dying before our eyes is heart breaking .It is just too hard
The movie ends then by returning to the movies opening scenes but now our eyes have been opened and we more fully understand the mystical funereal ambience as we witness once more the ritualistic laying out of the carcasses
Autopsies are done on some of the birds which didn’t make it to reveal not just one foreign plastic object but many and myriad different plastic items its astonishing and unbelievable to see just how many objects have accumulated in the young birds stomach and resulted in its death
Dead bird filled with plastics
This movie was an absolute paradigm shifter and wake up call for me .I often have waxed lyrical about the divine paradoxes of life both the exquisite beauty on the one hand in contrast to terrible ugliness and suffering which is also it seems an inevitable part of the spectrum of the experiences of life but this time I cannot divorce myself or absolve from knowing I myself as part of the human race have somehow unwittingly contributed to the darker dimensions of this paradox and have unwittingly played a part in this tragedy .This is indeed hard to swallow and I found myself shaking my head and quailing in disbelief. As custodians of the earth and all her creatures therein as far as these birds go probably just probably due to lack of awareness of the devastating effect that plastics pollution in our oceans is having on our sea creatures we are utterly failing them .
So then perhaps the filmmaker has achieved his goal at least with with this viewer of bringing home some painful and un palatable truths as I find myself taking the problem seriously and resolving to think of ways in which I can lessen my own plastic footprint on the earth and her oceans …….eg Being conscious of buying foods wrapped in as little plastic as possible , remembering to taking my recycled shopping bag to the supermarket making sure to make proper use of recycle garbage bins for sorting out plastics ..and writing this article
Anything ……any small act I can do that might save even one of these amazing birds lives .
I also strenuously object to all those millions of bits of tiny plastic the big Supermarkets produce to entice kids to encourage their parents to shop in their stores.I notice Disney at the moment is ironically celebrating the release of its latest Lion King movie which warbles on about the ‘Circle of Life’ while all the while flooding the environment with millions of these tiny plastic ‘Ooshes’ plastic creatures to put on the end of pencils which would are just about the right size and represent a nice bite sized morsel on which any unsuspecting albatross or any other seabird for that matter could snack and subsequently die as a result
I am as much of a sucker for a good Disney movie as anyone .I love their uplifting themes and positive intentions but really guys its time to get real and mindful about your marketing and merchandizing . The world simply doesn’t need to be constantly flooded with useless bits of tiny hard plastic to truly entertain engage the hearts and minds of our kids .Trust me the opportunity to get up close and personal with an albatross or the chance to see one of these magnificent creatures in flight far far outshines any spurious and short lived pleasure any silly nonsensical item created solely for the purposes of merchandizing and the profits that might bring in
Chris Jordan has gifted this remarkable film freely to the world and made it available to anyone who wants to watch it completely free of charge . He actively encourages public screenings and says I believe that now is the time for radically creative action by all of us on behalf of life in whatever big or small ways we have the power to do .
I strongly encourage everyone to watch ALBATROSS
3 minute movie trailer available at https//vimeo.com/218502282
To see the full length film ALBATROSS go to www. albatrossthefilm .com
available by visiting the Albatross website www.albatrossthefilm.com or go to upliftconnect.com and and do your bit whatever you can through personal action or advocacy to save the life of even one of these magnificent birds ……
Photography courtesy of Chris Jordan filmmaker www.albatrossthemovie.com
Jill Hudgins ( flickr ) and Otto Plutenia
Information for this review and article gathered from the movie ‘Albatross’