Documentaries, with their insistence on critical thinking, often feel profoundly human. Yet several films at Full Frame this year delve into the complex beauty of wildlife, instead, using animals as mirrors for society and measuring up the arbitrary line we've drawn between being nature's caretakers and inhabitants.
THE ART OF FLYING (April 7, 1:30 p.m.)—The deft movements of the common starling's glossy, black body remain a scientific mystery. When last year's warm winter kept the birds in the Netherlands, filmmaker Jan van IJken captured dense concentrations of the birds in flight. This artistic short meditates on their majestic spiral formations, which shift and dilate without any discernible leadership.
KEDI (April 8, 10:20 a.m.)—The hundreds of thousands of cats living in the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul are like Neko Atsume come to life. But instead of settling down in someone's backyard, these free-range kitties live in abandoned buildings and scavenge from dumpsters, somewhere between wild and domestic. This story is told from both the human and the cat's-eye perspective, and shows how these animals have come to signify freedom, adaptation, and serenity to the humans who interact with them.
TERRITORY (April 8, 10:20 a.m.)—Barbary macaques have long called the Rock of Gibraltar home, but the monkeys are increasingly heading into town to rattle streetlights and frolic on rooftops. The macaques' complete disregard for the invisible border that divides human civilization from the natural world is portrayed through natural sound and stunning imagery.
PICKLE (April 8, 7:20 p.m.)—This quirky short about a middle-aged couple who rescue animals with medical maladies is a sweet, if sorry, story. There's a paraplegic possum and the titular fish, who was born without the all-important ability to swim. Punctuated by animated illustrations, it's a charming look at the ways humans express love for one another and their animal companions.
UNLOCKING THE CAGE (April 8, 1:30 p.m.)—Filmmakers Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker raised $87,230 on Kickstarter to fund this documentary about the work of Steven Wise, an attorney on a thirty-year mission to give animals personhood rights. They follow Wise and his legal team, the Nonhuman Rights Project, as they slowly gain acceptance arguing on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York. Hegedus, Pennebaker, and Wise will be there to discuss the film after the screening.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Nature of the Beast."