Emptying the Skies
Based on a New Yorker essay by Jonathan Franzen, Emptying the Skies is a documentary about the poaching of migratory songbirds in the Middle East. The central figures of the film are a group of activists working to save these species of birds from potential extinction. The film fits in with other such animal activism documentaries as The Cove and Sharkwater, shining a light on the criminal killing of protected animals.
Director Douglas Kass improves on those films, though, by really immersing himself in the movement to stop the poaching, focusing on the people involved and the drama of their tactics. The advantage is Emptying the Skies resolutely avoids the kind of unsavory “money shot” climactic structure of other such films. There’s a horror in seeing what is being done to these precious birds, often for nothing more than sport, but there isn’t that ugly lingering you might expect.
Emptying the Skies’ interest lies in the “characters” of its story, supplying the audience with all the information needed about the songbirds and outlining the horrible nature of the poaching, and then giving the people at the heart of the activism the space to make their motivations and feelings clear. It’s also quite an enlightening documentary, taking on a subject that hasn’t gotten much serious attention. Audiences are sure to come away feeling more than a little angry, and also much more understanding of the need to protect these fragile bird species than they probably would have been otherwise. (Corey Atad)