“Albatross” Film Review


by Sue Weaver

COAST and TAP Arran got together to show this stunning film, by Chris Jordan, screened on 23rd June at the Arran High School.

The film highlights the lives and deaths of the huge numbers of albatross breeding on Midway Island in the North Pacific. The film maker came to prominence when he published shocking photographs of the contents of the stomachs of many baby albatross from 2009. He was then drawn back again and again to make this 90 minute documentary.

As we follow the story of the albatross return to Midway at breeding time – often their first steps on land for several years – we see them choosing lifetime mates through complex dances, and then taking turns to nurture eggs through lonely weeks while the other half of the pair scours the oceans for food over thousands of miles. After the hatching process, itself a huge challenge for the tiny chick, we see the youngsters feeding and growing. And we see them fed plastic from loving parents who have found what looks like food floating everywhere on the ocean surface.

Inevitably, some die. Some are cut open to reveal the multi-coloured mess within and are gently mourned by the humans filming. The adult albatross cannot know what they are doing and it is heart-breaking to watch. Meanwhile, the film is inter cut with images of the hideous ruins left by generations of US military on this lonely atoll. The point is not hammered home but it is left to the images to contrast the effects of human ways of living with the natural processes we are responsible for disturbing. Throughout the film, there is no preaching and the viewer is left to draw conclusions about the inevitable consequences which arise from our habits.

The later sequences in the lives of the young albatross took me quite by surprise. After their parents have left for the sea again, the youngsters need to develop wing power and prepare for their own take-off if they are to feed again. But first they must empty their stomachs of all that is not them. This is not easy to watch and some don’t make it. I held my breath while bird after bird made a clumsy stumbling run for the open sea.

The purpose of the film and for those watching is to witness and experience the truth of what is happening. It offers scenes of great beauty, of that great ocean and sky especially. The effect is sometimes a little slow, but mostly meditative, entering consciousness at a deep level. The film is offered free of charge by the film maker, but generous voluntary donations covered the cost of the hall, and £90 for COAST, TAP and the film maker.

For those who missed it, you have a chance to watch on a small screen here.