The success of the documentary film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, was a big surprise. I’d never imagined being involved with something like that. During the time that I was feeding the flock I’d hoped that someone might come along wanting to make a little video. The birds were so colorful and individually recognizable to me that I wanted some way of documenting and retaining my memories of them. When Judy showed up with the idea of making an actual movie, I was eager to help. But I had a general rule of keeping to the background. I wanted the film to be about the parrots. I broached the idea with her of leaving me out of it entirely, that my role would simply be to provide access to the birds. Because of my reluctance, she thought I was too shy and inarticulate to be the center of the story. She decided then to make it a children’s film, using child actors as the center of the story. To keep the kids entertained during the inevitable delays that happen in a film shoot, I told them stories about the parrots. Judy saw that I could talk and she loved the stories. The kids film wasn’t working, and by that time, I’d become enthusiastic enough about the project that my reluctance to participate vanished. I agreed to let the focus shift to the story of my relationship with the flock.
For the previous 25 years or so, I‘d been essentially a hermit. With the release of the book and then the film, I suddenly found myself flying around the country, renting cars, staying in hotels, giving interviews, doing book readings, and attending film openings. Besides the United States, the film took me to Canada, England, and Australia. I felt comfortable with it. I knew my subject, so I was at ease and found that I enjoyed talking to crowds. It wasn’t all that different from performing as a singer. By the end, though, I was completely drained. I’d even started seeing double. I was happy to move past it.
The film went from theaters, to television, to DVD, and finally to streaming. But its availability on streaming platforms has diminished considerably. It’s currently available only on Kanopy, a free service that many libraries use. The reason is that the only digital version has been in standard definition, and streaming services demand high definition. Judy’s company is a nonprofit, and it ain’t rolling in the dough. Fortunately, AMPAS, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Oscar), through its Academy Film Archive donated a 4k scan of the original 16mm negative. The restoration has been completed and will soon go into distribution. It’s been a five and a half year project, one that was often delayed by the demands of a new film Judy was working on. Click on the image to watch the new 2023 trailer.
To learn more about Judy’s work, visit Pelicanmedia.org.