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AIFF’s Pelican Dreams

         Filmmaker Judy Irving with central character, Gigi the pelican, from the film, Pelican Dreams

“Why the Long Face?” – The Life of a Pelican

– by Lee Greene

The Ashland Independent Film Festival presented two special benefit performances over Thanksgiving weekend of the new documentary film, Pelican Dreams, by Judy Irving, whose previous film, Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, won the Festival’s Audience Award in 2006. Pelican Dreams is a beautifully filmed movie, of triumph over adversity, with gorgeous camera work of pelicans in the wild, accompanied by an appealing musical score, and a narrative that follows the lives of a few wounded pelicans, as they attempt to recover from their wounds with the assistance of several animal rescue organizations and their human facilitators. Along the way, the viewer painlessly and facilely receives an extensive education about pelicans, their lives, nature, environment, nesting habits, mating behavior, migration, and survival challenges.

“A pelican walks into a bar. Barman asks, ‘Why the long face?’” This is a quote from the film. The film does not provide a verbal answer to the question, but in a way, the entire film answers the question. While the pelican is a magnificent animal, a graceful flyer, skillful fisher, and a curious and intelligent creature with some behaviors reminiscent of domestic dogs, pelicans lead a very difficult life. Their habitats are no longer able to furnish sufficient food to support the population, only one in three pelican chicks survive to adulthood, there is a murderous sibling rivalry for survival, and the human contribution to their environment has been deadly – pollution, oil spills, etc.

Among several injured pelicans followed in the film, the first and central star is Gigi, a several month old female rescued while walking in the traffic lanes on the Golden Gate Bridge. Under-nourished, under-weight and unable to fly, she is taken to a rehabilitation facility where she is cared for, nursed back to health and eventually released back into the wild. Most of the pelicans followed in the film follow a similar course, to a successful conclusion and a life back in the wild. One notable exception, though never able to recover the ability to fly, nevertheless ends up with an interesting, fulfilling and active, albeit no longer wild and free, life. The film is about wildness: how close can we get to a wild animal without taming or harming it? Who doesn’t love a story of triumph over adversity, with endearing central characters, and happy endings?

This wouldn’t be a reel movie review without a trailer, right?

The poster for the film, Pelican Dreams

The poster for the film, Pelican Dreams

So here’s the trailer for Pelican Dreams:This is a wonderful movie and one which should be widely seen. It is an exquisite combination of excellent technical film making, heart-string tugging emotion, and very effective communication of educational information. But one should not find this to be a surprise, for a film at a special showing by the Ashland Independent Film Festival from a recipient of one of its Audience Awards. The Ashland Independent Film Festival is one of the sparkling gems of the Rogue Valley (along with the likes of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Britt Music Festivals, et al.) that make living here so culturally rich and rewarding. The Festival staff, under the skilled and expert guidance of Director of Programming, Joanne Feinberg, spend most of the year and countless hours sifting through vast numbers of films submitted for consideration for competition in the Festival, to select only the very best to be shown during the Film Festival each April. There are no “rotten tomatoes” among AIFF’s Festival screenings, and the Festival’s award winners are the best of the best. The proceeds from these two special showings of Pelican Dreams, thanks to the generous support of Coming Attractions Theatres, Inc., benefited the non-profit AIFF and help it to successfully prepare for its annual film festival, which is scheduled for April 9 – 13 in 2015. The films to be shown this year will be announced at a Preview Event on March 10, 2015. This stunning, stirring, and well-made film, Pelican Dreams, was but a brief appetizer in advance of the extensive roster of wonderful films that will be offered during the Film Festival this April. For more information about the Ashland Independent Film Festival, including information about membership and Festival passes, tickets to film screenings, sponsorships, advertising, etc., visit the AIFF website at, call the AIFF office at 541.488.3823, email, or snail mail Ashland Independent Film Festival, PO Box 218, Ashland, OR 97520.


This review was originally published by the Jacksonville Review on December 1, 2014 at