2019 | Canada, Mexico, United States | Experimental,Music Video

Important Bird Opera

  • 38 mins
  • Director | Ryan Moritz

This film is currently not available.   

Important Bird Opera (music and film by Ryan Moritz with a libretto by Anjuli Raza Kolb) is an experimental opera in three acts about birds, migration, climate crisis, and rewilding. The piece began as an experiment in nature photography, sound documentary, and the twentieth-century tone poem. Built on an original score, migration footage, and recorded birdsong from across the hemispheres, Important Bird Opera evolved as we worked into a more argumentative and political piece, one that follows climate writer Alan Weisman’s prompt to imagine—perhaps even dream—of a world without us. 

The opera was supported by the New York City Audubon Society, who provided Ryan studio space on Governor’s Island to develop a work of art commenting on the importance of bird and biodiversity to ecological and planetary health. The title of the piece, a nod to the international network of Important Bird Areas, also registers the artists’ ongoing activist and volunteer work with specific bird conservation efforts. The poetic work by Anjuli moves between registers, touching on contemporary ecological activism and the impacts of climate change both large and small on bird populations while also revisiting the conceit of 10th century Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar’s political epic The Conference of the Birds. The libretto, Unflocked Heart, tells the story of a diverse avian community riven by doubt and hesitation and brought together unexpectedly in hope.

Rendering images and footage of birds in stunning motion and sometimes humorous repose, the opera explores the relationship between care, romantic love, and love of the planet; avian population decline; climatological and built-environment challenges to traditional migratory patterns; and the possibility of reforestation and ecological remedy undertaken by non-human consciousnesses.  

Important Bird Opera is built of musical, filmic, and poetic components, but it is ultimately a community event whose fullest manifestation brings together the performance, the audience, and the sonic and visual contingencies of environment. The debut performance took place on August 24, 2019 in Nolan Park on Governors Island in New York City, where Ryan performed live accompaniments to the opera, amidst fireflies, roosting birds, and humming insects.

Act I Southward
Wisdom, the oldest known wild bird, incubates her 64th egg. Our guide at the dawning of a new era marked by shifting climate and man-made catastrophe, she ponders past and future. How do we survive? Her egg hatches and they soon launch into their annual migration under the light of the full moon. Across the continent, a fledging lesser goldfinch is rescued and transported comfortably to safety. Pelagic migrants fly thousands of miles over open water, driven by a compulsion whose source is deeply instinctual. 

Act II Hiatus
The birds arrive at their non-breeding grounds to find increasingly disturbed habitats. After a long migration, the sandhill crane lands in an unfamiliar and icy refuge, hollering to the sky in frustration. A one-eyed screech owl decides to stay, but is underwhelmed by the scene at home. Others murmur and protest. Sensing discontent, Wisdom summons the flock to address their dilemma.  

Act III Northward
The season changes and the northern migration softly begins. Danger looms, as unexpected weather events pose the risk of fallout and even death. Waves and waves of birds on the move reseed and resow and repopulate the planet. Confronted by a nuclear landscape the red-winged blackbird finds spring. The chaotic flock, utopian in their labors, return to their hatching grounds where they discover, in preening, that their species’ future is hidden in their feathers, their movement, their flocking.

migration climate nature photography sound footage birdsong