By: Addison Wylie
Emptying the Skies finds itself in a scenario where the message is greater than the film its wrapped up in.
Douglas and Roger Kass have strewn together interviews and clips from conspicuous raids and tense confrontations to make an eye-opening film chronicling the ever-growing problem of bird poaching in southern Europe. The kindheartedness and tenacity of CABS (which stands for: Committee Against Bird Slaughter) is seen throughout, and their hearts remain open and on their sleeve. Many would mark the brigade’s fearlessness as extraordinary, while some would label their hands-on approach to stopping poachers to be impassioned but immature.
The seen willpower of CABS is what keeps Emptying the Skies interesting. Without their dominance covering the issue, the filmmakers would’ve had an even harder time controlling their project. Movie goers would just be left with one-on-ones with journalist Jonathan Franzen, who’s essay inspired this film. For some reason though, Franzen wants to impress us with his answers and his sentiment towards his aviary friends. He comes off as one of those strange fellas you’d find Eugene Levy playing in a Christopher Guest movie.
Emptying the Skies is cut from the same cloth as other docs that are goal-oriented to bring awareness about a rising problem. I began thinking of better docs such as The Ghosts in our Machine and The Cove. Revolution even crossed my mind, and that film has bigger issues with its filmmaker’s ego than the environment does with its world problems.
The Kass’ are equally as aspiring and enthusiastic as any CABS member, but their doc has the quality of a project made by film school freshmen who double as activists after class. The disjointed manner of the documentary suggests that the filmmaking duo had difficulty finding a straightforward path, or they just didn’t care because they had bigger fish to fry.
I should be going easy on Douglas and Roger, for Emptying the Skies is their directorial debuts. But, I’m being tough on the newly appointed filmmakers because this type of education can be presented in a refined way. The way Emptying the Skies has been delivered to audiences is decent – I guess – but the jaggedness that’s shown in the technical design is all too noticeable.
The film frequently deals with death and doesn’t skip over any explicit detail. Though these cuts lead to montages of heartbreaking defenceless birds, I’m glad the filmmakers weren’t afraid to face the true awfulness of poaching. So, if your stomach turns just thinking about exclusive delicacies involving baby birds as well as how those dishes are prepared, get ready to wince and squint.
If the release of Emptying the Skies will make movie goers more conscious to these acts of abominable activity, then the doc has succeeded in some sense. Everything else about this documentary is moderate at best.