Documentary Review: ‘For The Birds’

Review by James Lindorf

In 2012 Director Richard Miron released the short documentary Lucky Ducks, a profile of Kathleen Murphy, an upstate New York bird enthusiast. For his first feature-length film he has returned with an extended look at Kathy and her 200 pet chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. Filmed over five years, For the Birds is continuously in flux and deeply personal. Beginning as a simple profile of Kathy and her animals, the story has its first twist when she must battle a local animal advocacy group to keep her birds, then transforms yet again into an intimate look at her relationship with Gary, her husband of over 20 years. For the Birds has been on the festival circuit and will be hitting theaters in New York on May 31st and LA, June 14th.

While Miron doesn’t delve into it, his film is really a study of the effects of hoarding on the individual, their family, and the community at large in this case. Kathy is a sweet, loving, woman who, after finding a lost duckling in her yard, started down a decade long path collecting birds and neglecting everything else, from her family to her health.

The path taken by the film is an intriguing one. Slight shifts in the focus of the film can change, sometimes drastically, who you may be rooting for or against. Early on, the animal rights group is portrayed as the villain, pushing around a kind woman who is trying her best to care for the animals she loves. After some more information comes to light, you might find yourself beginning to agree with them, which leads to Gary becoming the villain. For people, other than Kathy who always remains in the light, the warmth or chill you feel towards a group or individual fluctuates and never lasts too long.

For the Birds could have been a more impactful film if it focused more on the mental health aspect. Is Kathy a hoarder, what does that mean, is their treatment, will her friends and family be impacted long term? The health impact of living with hundreds of birds could have been explored as well. Maybe Miron thought the medical and psychological angle would have been exploiting someone who he has worked with for the better part of a decade, or perhaps he felt a clinical film wouldn’t be as exciting and decided to go with a bittersweet, human-focused film. For the Birds combines two-parts heartwarming and one-part unsettling into 92 minutes of a successful feature-length premiere film for Richard Miron.

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