There’s a story that Suzuki Roshi told. He was the Zen master at the Zen Center here in San Francisco. He went to Yosemite and saw a big waterfall coming over a cliff. It’s one river at the top of the cliff, but as it falls, the river breaks up into all these individual droplets. And then it hits the bottom of the cliff, and it’s one river again. We’re all one river ‘till we hit this cliff. That distance between the top of the cliff and the bottom of the cliff is our life. And all the individual little droplets think they really are individual little droplets until they hit the bottom, and then they’re gone. But that droplet doesn't lose anything. It gains. It gains the rest of the river.

From the film, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill


Inside Stories

People have questions about how the film was made. I want to use this page to tell some of the inside stories as well as my thoughts about the film. I'll add new ones from time to time.

Most people who've seen The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill agree that it's not quite like any other film, and seldom what people expect it to be. Most anticipate a nature documentary about some birds. Then it goes someplace else entirely. One of the most common types of e-mail that I receive is from some guy who was made to watch the film against his will and then ended up transfixed—and moved. Few people can ever say what the film is about exactly. Or even what kind of film it is. Is it a documentary? Judy thinks it is because she thinks of herself as a documentary filmmaker. I think of it as a poem, because, like a poem, it has many different levels.

I think the film works as poetry because Judy lets the footage tell her what any given film is about. In other words, she lets the images lead, rather than editing to a preconceived script, which makes the poetry real, not an artifice. The instances of serendipity surrounding the experience with the parrots—the human relationships, philosophical understandings, the book and the film—are so numerous that they astonish me. And they're still happening. If I ever get a chance to do a second edition of the parrot book, I'll incorporate more of that aspect of the story.

I'm often asked how the film has affected my life. The answer is: not nearly as much as one might think. People recognize me occasionally, especially around San Francisco, and I'm usually caught off-guard by it. I seldom think about the fact that I've been in a movie. It's awkward for me sometimes because the people who stop me are strangers, and as we talk I'll ask questions about them. Then I'll start to say something about myself and I'll realize, "Oh, they already know that." Sometimes there's nothing I can say. The film was more of an effect than a cause. The cause was the parrots, and they really did change my life. The best thing about the film for me was that it enabled me to meet my wife. I'd always wanted to get married. At the time filming started, I was despairing of ever meeting someone with whom I could settle down. I never assumed that the movie was going to be a big deal. It was an art project. But it was a big part of the turning point in my life that the parrots led me through. I'll be grateful to them for the rest of my life.