Movie Review: “Pelican Dreams” Glides Ever So Smoothly


Review by James McDonald

Director Judy Irving (“The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”) follows a wayward California pelican from her ‘arrest’ on the Golden Gate Bridge into care at a rehab facility and explores nesting grounds, Pacific coast migration and survival challenges.

“Pelican Dreams” tells the story of GiGi, a brown pelican who one afternoon, decided to land on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and proceed to take a stroll on the roadway, causing traffic to back up for miles. Unable to fly away because of an injured wing, police had to capture her and place her in a nearby seabird rescue center. Director Judy Irving heard about the incident and decided that she wanted to know more about GiGi (for Golden Gate) and approached the center where she was housed and with their approval, continued to film her recuperation and eventual release back into the wild.

The brown pelican is indigenous to the Americas and is one of the best known and most prominent birds found in the coastal areas of the southern and western United States. Until I saw this film, I didn’t realize that it is one of the only two pelican species which feeds by diving into the water. That’s what GiGi’s caretakers speculated, that she may have been diving for food and her wing caught the water at the wrong angle or quite possibly that she flew into another bird, injuring it and herself in the process. The story takes us back to the Channel Islands, a chain of eight islands located in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California.

This area is one of the richest marine biospheres in the world and the location where she probably hatched from before she migrated up the coast to her eventual landing in San Francisco. Along the way, we meet other scientists who have been studying pelicans for many years as well as the fishermen who use pelicans as a radar because they can see the fish under the water and once they start diving, they know exactly where to drop their nets. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t resort to schmaltzy syrupy music to try and evoke emotions, instead, director Judy Irving simply places the camera in front of her subject and lets them be themselves.

In select theaters December 5th including the Angelika Film Center in Dallas & Plano

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James McDonald
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