Oct 12, 2014

Judy Irving's "Pelican Dreams"

Judy Irving and "Gigi" in the filmmaker's new documentary Pelican Dreams, opening in New York and LA on November 7th. (Photo courtesy of Shadow Distribution.)
About ten years ago, on a visit to a remote wildlife reserve in Mexico, I had my first glimpse of brown pelicans diving into the sea. My husband and I looked on as a flock of these large-winged birds seemed to shape-shift in mid-air, contracting their wings and hurling themselves downward, slicing through the surface of the water in order to catch the fish they had apparently spied from above. In Judy Irving’s Pelican Dreams, in a spectacular sequence that captures the efforts of young brown pelicans diving beside their elders, viewers can see one of these wonders of nature.

Irving had begun filming the birds over a decade ago and abandoned the project, but when a brown pelican landed on the Golden Gate Bridge recently, she recalled her childhood love of the birds and the 16 mm. footage she had shot of them. Brown pelicans breed on California’s Channel Islands, and that unlucky young bird, dubbed “Gigi” by Irving, was underweight, and had to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitation center. Irving followed her there. Throughout Pelican Dreams, the filmmaker speaks with about a dozen pelican caretakers, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area, who nurse the birds professionally, and who heal them in their backyards. All the pelicans are released back into the wild if they recover.