Director: Richard Miron
Words – Rhiannon Topham
“These birds have taken their toll on everybody.”
No, this isn’t a quote from a Hitchcockian film set, but from Richard Miron’s directorial debut, For the Birds about Kathy Murphy, a woman living in Ulster County in rural New York with her husband and almost 200 ducks, chickens and turkeys.
The film, which was nominated for a Doc/Fest New Talent award, is somewhat surreal. Kathy loves her birds. Everyone knows that. She wants everyone to know that. Long-suffering husband Gary knows that, and he likes “to look at them and stuff”, he just wishes they were “a little further away”. Which is entirely fair – he has been sharing his home with a deluge of loud and agitated birds for years.
But, when Kathy’s fowl family come to the attention of a local animal sanctuary, things get pretty sour pretty fast. The animals are severely overcrowded, are living in their own waste and have little access to water – but Kathy loves them like children and goes berserk when she realises the sanctuary volunteers aren’t just keeping the birds temporarily while they receive the necessary treatment, but are planning to remove them from Kathy’s custody all together. What follows is a long and arduous custody battle with the concerned volunteers, a conflict which eventually reaches court and attracts the attention of national media.
It’s an impressive chronicle of an anthropological anomaly – especially for a debut. Kathy is startlingly self-aware but content with who she is, contrary to the beliefs of her critics and her perturbed husband who thinks she’s failed in her one job to be a model housewife and paragon of domesticity. The story is almost comical but in a pitiful way; to hoard a population of birds the size of a small village is bizarre, yes, but the physical and emotional strain the situation causes to everyone involved becomes unexpectedly tragic.
The film lets the subjects frame the narrative for themselves, which doesn’t just concern Kathy’s attachment to her birds, labelled a “prime example of the hoarder phenomenon”, but also questions the value of loyalty and philosophical distinctions between human and animal relationships (albeit in unique and eccentric fashion).
You can see For The Birds at Sheffield Doc/Fest, info and tickets available here: