International House salutes ‘The Birds’ with avian-themed program

Michael Gitlin’s essay film “The Birdpeople” looks at people whose lives intersect with birds.  Credit: Provided
Michael Gitlin’s essay film “The Birdpeople” looks at people whose lives intersect with birds.
Credit: Provided

As the ads for Alfred Hitchcock’s avian apocalypse trumpeted 50 years ago, “The Birds is coming.” This weekend, a four-day series of films with our feathered friends as its subject is coming to International House, with a screening of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” on Friday to celebrate its half-century anniversary.

Curator Jesse Pires was inspired, at least in part, by the Walker Art Center’s Internet Cat Video Film Festival, which attracted hordes of feline enthusiasts by elevating everyone’s favorite cute time-waster to an (admittedly ironic) art form. As Pires explains, “I thought, if they can do cats, why can’t we do birds?”

I-House’s series, however, is considerably less tongue-in-cheek, with three feature-length films and a number of shorts spread over the program. In addition to the Hitchcock classic, the series features Ken Loach’s moving “Kes,” the story of a working-class Yorkshire boy who escapes from his bleak existence by raising and training a baby kestrel; and Michael Gitlin’s 2004 essay film “The Birdpeople,” an experimental documentary about people whose lives intersect with birds, from Central Park birdwatchers to a group in Louisiana searching the bayou for a bird on the verge of extinction.

Thursday night offers a program of short films curated by filmmaker Rebecca Meyers, formerly the director of film programs for ArtsEmerson at Emerson College, who now programs Bucknell University’s screenings at the historic Campus Theatre in downtown Lewisburg. Her eight-film program spans nearly a century of work, from an early Thomas Edison production to digital shorts from the last decade. Each of the features are also accompanied by shorts from filmmakers like Peter Greenaway and Jerome Hill.

“Birds are incredibly mysterious,” Pires says, “and there’s a certain poetry to their existence. The act of flight in and of itself has a fascinating and wonderful quality that lends itself to contemplation and speculation. That to me is the unifying cinematic quality of having birds as a theme. Unlike cats and dogs, birds are a little more of an enigma.”

Birdwatching film retrospective
Nov. 20-23
International House
3701 Chestnut St.
$7-$9, 215-387-5125
www.ihousephilly.org


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