On a tiny island in the heart of the Pacific, a story is taking place that may change the way you see everything.
Note: Albatross is a documentary film not a book.
We have been following the story of this film for years now ever since we contributed to the Kickstarter campaign in 2012. At that time my daughter and her friends were very interested in what was happening to the birds on Midway. Fast forward to 2018 and my youngest son, Matthew Shaw, an avid wildlife photographer (https://www.instagram.com/mattshawphotography/) has begun a campaign against plastic at his high school. When he heard Albatross would be released on Earth Day this year, he signed up to host a screening at his school and I was lucky enough to view the prescreening of the film with him.
Shaped as a meditation and a poem, this film’s message is achingly beautiful and heartwrenchingly powerful. Even though I knew much of the story of Midway, I was touched beyond words during the viewing.
Chris Jordan sets up the film as a narrative about the life of these amazing birds. As he paints the story of the Albatross, the viewer is drawn into the love these creatures exhibit for one another and for their young. The bonding between mates and their children is intense. And it is through this love that the parents fly for weeks collecting food for their chicks.
As the viewer comes to understand these creatures, the tragedy behind what is happening to these birds is even more shattering. Thinking they are nourishing their children, the parents are actually filling their gullets with plastic waste that is now polluting the ocean. The birds mistake the plastic bits for food. And believing they are providing nutrients to their chicks, they unknowingly feed their babies immense amounts of plastic.
Many of the chicks die in infancy. Jordan shows us the contents of their stomachs while paying homage to these tiny creatures in beautiful ways. The ones who live grow into fledglings; the Albatross’s version of teenagers. These awkward birds with their transition from downy feathers to adult ones resemble our own kids with faux punk hairstyles. The parents leave the fledglings to find their own way and we follow their story as they learn to fly, knowing that their survival depends on them mastering that skill. Before they can fly, they must purge their stomachs of undigested foods. Originally this would have consisted of organic materials but with the plastics in their gullets, it is impossible for some of the birds to get rid of the toxins. The viewer watches as some of the adolescent birds are successful and fly off to start their solo journeys to adulthood, much like our own teens will leave for college. But then Jordan forces us to see what we don’t want to. Those birds who are unable to rid themselves of the waste we have created. We stay with these young birds as they slowly starve to death, unable to leave Midway and reach their full potential.
This film moved me deeply. At times I laughed and many times I cried. This is a film that once again opened my eyes to the role I play in the devastation of this planet, not just for human life but for all the other species around us. Jordan forces us to bare witness to the consequences of the life we currently live.
This is a film not to be missed. Visit the website to learn more about the project and to host a screen. The film will be release for free to the public on June 8th.