Parkdale filmmaker thrilled to premiere songbird...
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Apr 27, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Parkdale filmmaker thrilled to premiere songbird documentary at Hot Docs

The Messenger looks at the plummeting population of songbirds

Parkdale Villager

Migratory songbirds are the canaries in the coal mine for humans on earth.

Lose the songbirds and the planet’s demise might not be that far behind, according to the film The Messenger.

From the cities of Toronto and New York all the way to Costa Rica and the boreal forest of Canada, the population of migratory songbirds is plummeting.

“When I finally clued into that, as a filmmaker I said I’m going to do something about this idea. It’s definitely a problem that’s happening on a global scale and we wanted to reflect that in the film,” said Su Rynard, a Parkdale resident and the director of the documentary.

“This story demanded that we go to different places and we really tried to find people who were really engaged in researching and really trying to figure out why this is happening. I wanted to make it contemporary; it’s not a typical nature film.”

Rynard’s documentary, which premieres at the 2015 Canadian International Documentary Festival Hot Docs, explores the human connection to birds and examines the variety of human-made perils that have devastated bird populations like Thrushes, Warblers, Orioles, Tanagers and Grosbeaks through hunting, light pollution, high rise collisions, pesticides, cats and of course the loss of habitat.

“Every species has a different story to tell with myriad of causes and in some cases it’s more than one cause,” the Queen and Dufferin dtreets resident explained.

“One of the challenges, which were a huge challenge when making the film, was that there’s no single cause. There’s no smoking gun. Some say it’s the fastest rate of decline in human history.”

This is Rynard’s first time showing at Hot Docs, although her films have shown at film festivals around the world including the Rotterdam and Shanghai film festivals. Hot Docs was a missing piece in her festival mosaic.

“It’s great to show something in your home town, the other work I’ve done does travel and it’s great to get the work out in the world,” she said.

“But if you don’t have a hometown audience there’s a bit of a disconnection. It’s really, really nice to do something you can tell your neighbour about at a local level.”

Her inspiration for the film comes from a combination of personal experience and through reading Bridget Stutchbery’s book Silence of the Songbirds. She said over the years she’s traveled north during the summers and realized she would hear them less and less each year.

“I thought it was me, that I was just missing them. It wasn’t until I read the book and started analyzing the issue that I was like, ‘whoa, this is isn’t me, this thing I’m feeling is actually part of a huge problem’ and that is we are losing the birds,” she said.

“It certainly has changed my experience of spring. I’m just way more conscious of the new sound out there. It has changed me. I will be much more vigilant and do what I can to further any conservation efforts because it’s important.”

To help try and save the songbirds, Rynard’s film has teamed up with Bird Studies Canada to create a social impact campaign that will serve as a bridge to audience members who feel inspired to help in any way they can. It’s all she can hope for, she said.

“I would really like people to say what can I do to help? And there are plenty of simple ways they can,” she said.

Rynard hopes when people come out to see the documentary they clue in to what’s happening around them and realize there’s a connection between humans and birds.

“The other message of The Messenger, is that we study birds because they’re so linked to the environment and they do tell us something about the environment. So what happens to birds happens to us and it’s a link people don’t make,” Rynard explained.

“We really have to turn it back on ourselves because we live in that shared environment and if the environment doesn’t sustain them eventually, how will it sustain us? The answer is, it won’t. We really have to take it seriously not only for the birds’ sake, but also our own.”

To find out more about the film and ways to help the songbirds, visit

The Messenger premiers at Hot Doc on Tuesday, April 28; it screens again Friday, May 1 and Sunday, May 3.

For tickets, visit

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