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'Birders: The Central Park Effect' aims to make birdwatching cool

Director Jeffrey Kimball doesn't focus enough on the 'birders' who watch the skies, but the nonviolent look at nature is enjoyable.

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One of the subjects director Jeffrey Kimball speaks with his author Jonathan Franzen, a devoted bird watcher.

Courtesy of Music Box Films

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Birders have always had a bum rap as binocular-wearing geeks. Jeffrey Kimball’s documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect,” aims to change all that. First broadcast on HBO and now released into theaters, it’s an affectionate movie about people who are delightedly obsessional about all manner of birds, specifically the more than 100 species that congregate at various times of the year in New York’s Central Park – about one quarter of the total bird species in the United States and Canada.

Kimball is himself a birder, which means he isn’t condescending to the dozen or so birders he interviews. And although this is his first feature film (he’s spent most of his career doing sound work in movies), he knows how to capture revelatory shots of birds in flight or in repose. The trick is patience. A lot of patience. Hours can be spent waiting for that one moment when a red-tailed hawk or a hermit thrush alights or takes to the sky.

Most of the people he interviews are defiantly upfront about their passion. Chris Cooper (not the actor) says that birding “turns every morning into a treasure hunt.” His friends understand that from the high migration dates of April 15 to Memorial Day, they “won’t see me nowhere.”

Jonathan Rosen says, “If you’re not out birding, you’re missing something, not just intellectually but almost in a bodily way. It’s just some deep human impulse really.”

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