INTO EVERYONE’S LIFE A NIGHT PARROT COMES IN SOME FORM
I set out to make a film on the Night Parrot. It was 100 years since it had disappeared and many thought it extinct. In the course of filming the locations where the Night Parrot had been seen, the bird miraculously reappeared, making front page headlines around the world. Good news, but I thought its rediscovery spelt an end to my film project. The bird was not a winged Thylacene. It really existed and Science, funded by Capitalism, stepped in to take over its narrative - a large mining company paid the folk who found her to do secret research and I had no access to the story of her resurrection. I could not let her go at that, though surely the Night Parrot now had her dramatic ending. A beloved lost object had been found. But returned to whom?
The geography of the Night Parrot’s story I came to think of as a trick of time. There is a journey to and from the desert, and to and from places where knowledge is created, maintained, or lost, in so many different ways. During the film's production I read Dal Stivens’ “A Horse of Air”, which is a supposedly fictional account of a man driven mad by his search for the Night Parrot. The poetry of John Kinsella and Dorothy Porter, as well as Shakespeare’s “King Lear”, Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and Sean O’Brien’s translation of Dante’s “Inferno” came along for the ride. For music I listened to Chopin’s Nocturnes because they pay homage to the night. Chopin was a fellow insomniac.
All these things somehow made their way into the film. Even the static of current events, heard periodically when I passed through intermittent coverage, makes an appearance. So perhaps it is not surprising that my gaze becomes fraught. I found myself staring intently at a plaque marking a particular point in time and an obscure passing. What lay beneath these places and contemporary situations that the Night Parrot lead me to? I hope I have relayed aspects of the Night Parrot’s story that have been marginalised by the haste to lay claim, name and memorialise. By the end of filming, through 2013 and 2014, in all the mainland states of Australia and across Europe, I found that I could connect pretty much everything to that bird lost in the darkness.
So how to make the film ?
There is a fundamental question to ask before setting out to make a film…what is uniquely and particularly cinematic in this story that can only be told by a moving picture camera ? If you stay true to what can only be observed - as observers of bird behaviour do - and then impose a form on the images and the observers' behaviour, then you are on your way to making a film. In this case a cinematic essay. There are many fine examples of ethnographic films that fulfil the charter of being truly only reproducible by thinking visually through a video camera. I like the dogma and the infinite complexity of that idea. Using film also imposes the passage of time. Time is one of the protagonists in the story of the Night Parrot.
Aspects of a missing character can be portrayed by framing their absence with the places that once surrounded them and with those who may have an interest in the missing character. I read the work of the environmental philosopher Donna Haraway. She memorably said ”nothing comes without its world”. In her words I found an entreaty to seek out places where the Night Parrot once existed.… characters, situations, encounters. Through visiting these places I thought I could perhaps conjure the Night Parrot's existence in ways other than actually clapping eyes on it.
What next ?
I am interested in exploring non-human perspectives. Night Parrot Stories was the second film in a series of three. I am now starting work on a film on the Albatross and relationships with the pelagic southern Oceans. It will be the last film in the series. The first film was on Locusts (‘Memoirs of a Plague’). All the main characters are creatures of flight.