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Sierra Magazine

Sierra's March/April 2004 Let's Talk film selection:
Winged Migration
a film by Jacques Perrin

Winged Migration

What it’s about
Winged Migration is 85 minutes of birds doing what they do best. Jacques Perrin’s team of 14 cinematographers spent four years in planes, gliders, helicopters, and balloons following alongside, above, below, and ahead of two dozen species as they soared above the Earth, traveling thousands of miles each spring and fall on their migratory odysseys. While Perrin emphasizes the staggering grandness of these natural cycles, he also lets us know where humans fit in. The film was nominated for a documentary Oscar in 2002, losing out to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.

Where to get it
The film is available for rent or purchase on DVD (list price $26.95) and VHS (list price $14.94, as of March 2, 2004). The DVD includes the 52-minute documentary The Making of Winged Migration.

About the filmmakers
Jacques Perrin isn’t exactly a household name to American moviegoers, but he has more than 100 feature film appearances to his name, and won an Oscar for producing Costa-Gavras’s 1970 political thriller Z,which turns on the investigation of the assassination of a left-wing Greek politician and the government’s attempts to cover it up. His most recent foray into producing nature films was preceded by MicroCosmos (1996), a close-up look at the world of insects, and Himalaya (1999), a fictionalized account of life among the Dolpopas. Of his latest work, Perrin told the BBC, "I wanted Winged Migration to be a homage to the beauty and freedom of birds. I realized I wanted to follow different species of bird going all around the world, to remind us that we are not alone on this planet, that we are in the territory of others, who also have a right to live."

Discussion questions

Printable version of questions

  • Winged Migration was nominated for an Oscar in 2003, having received wide acclaim from both reviewers and general audiences. What did you like most about the film? What were its weaknesses?

  • Director Jacques Perrin says Winged Migration "is like a dream--it’s not supposed to be a learning experience." Does the lack of narrative leave you wanting more information? Or does the film's focus on the visuals of bird migration encourage a more visceral reaction to the spectacle of birds in flight?

  • Did the film inspire you to see birds, the natural world, or multi-thousand-mile bird migrations in new ways?

  • An array of technological devices, including helicopters and airplanes, was used to capture these natural spectacles. How do we reconcile the use of environmentally destructive technologies in our pursuit of unaffected nature? If you travel to natural destinations, have you made efforts to curtail the environmental impacts of your trips?

  • Does it bother you that some birds were raised to imprint on the camera crew, so that flocks wouldn’t be scared off? What level of manipulation is too much?
  • The film gives us very brief but clear references to the impacts that humans have on bird migrations worldwide. What was your reaction to these images?
  • Did the film change your understanding of birds? What books or other resources would you recommend to those interested in learning more about birds?
  • Links
    The film’s official Web site is, where you can learn more about how Winged Migration was made and about the other work of director Jacques Perrin. The site also includes a nifty map showing the migration routes of the birds featured in the film.

    For information on birds and birdwatching, go to the Audubon Society’s Web site at or to

    Take action
    To take action on endangered species, habitat protection, and other issues that affect the vitality of bird populations, visit

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