Scott Crocker’s wondrously paced “Ghost Bird” is a luscious, ambient documentary about absence, the hope for a presence, the death of a bird, the death of a planet. It’s haunting and bittersweet and if you think about it closely enough, tragicomic. An industry has been built up in the wilds of Brinkley, Arkansas over reported sightings of the Ivory-Billed woodpecker, a species that’s been extinct for over fifty years. Species as-yet-never-to-be-discovered supposedly go extinct every day of the year in the diminishing rainforest, but Crocker (and cinematographer Damir Frkovic) provide ample evidence of the manifestations of the human species. When a region adopts a mascot that doesn’t exist, wistful reflections come naturally. As Crocker told Canada’s National Post when “Ghost Bird” debuted at Toronto’s HotDocs in 2009, “As I came to learn more about the bird, it became almost like a mirror for how we interact with the natural world and how our footprint has continued to grow and stomp out species like the Ivory-bill. Imbued in this iconic bird are our hopes, our fears, our failures.” His movie tells the same tale, cleanly, mournfully, gorgeously. “Ghost Bird” is whip-smart, Errol Morris-smart. “You can never prove it doesn’t exist”: the simplest well-there-you-go in the movie may be its existential heart. The eclectic score includes new music by cellist Zoë Keating, The Pixies, The Black Keys and The Black Heart Procession. 85m. (Ray Pride)
“Ghost Bird” plays Friday-Tuesday and Thursday at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.