Nov. 10--Problems with parrots had been on Brewster filmmaker Allison Argo's radar for a while, but the urgency grew as she saw an increasing number left off at her town's Animal Rescue League facility. Families who got parrots as pets changed their minds, and the sometimes difficult birds were hard to get re-adopted. Last year, Argo met a West Harwich couple who have taken in parrots -- now up to a dozen -- simply to give them a place to go.
Argo felt it was the right time to turn her film skills to the issue, and her concern only grew after she learned about parrot rescue centers and sanctuaries, and visited one that sheltered more than 500 parrots. Those stories led the multiple-Emmy-Award-winning filmmaker to create "Parrot Confidential," a documentary that will debut Wednesday night on "Nature" on PBS stations around the country.
"It's horrifying how huge this problem is and how few people realize it," she said in a phone interview this week.
PBS information on the film notes that these types of birds have never been domesticated -- bred as companions like cats and dogs -- and so are still wild even when living with humans. They are highly intelligent, but unpredictable, and potentially loud. They can live to 80 or 90 years old, outliving their owners.
Argo describes the new film, in a written filmmaker's note, as, in large part, "a celebration of parrots: their intelligence, sociability and beauty." She says by phone that she was startled by getting to know them up close. "Once you meet a couple of parrots ... you're struck by how intelligent they are. You look in their eyes, and there's definitely someone home."
The film is also "a taking-stock of parrots at this moment in time, both captive and wild." And those two fates have a world of differences. Most people only know the birds as pets -- like in the 1970s TV show "Baretta" with Robert Blake -- and can't imagine them living on their own. Parrots are "beautiful and exotic and people want to own them," Argo notes in a phone interview, "but there's nothing like seeing them free and wild."
That makes it harder to watch them suffer when abandoned or in a difficult living situation, and Argo's film walks the line between celebrating the birds and detailing the problems. "It was a challenge making sure the film was not so dark and depressing that no one can watch it," she says. "So there are light moments in it, it can be funny, but you come away with quite an education."
Argo is a producer, director, writer and editor who has been making films for more than two decades, including close to 20 nature-oriented films -- about frogs, elephants, chimpanzees, cats and more -- for PBS and National Geographic. The mission of her ArgoFilms, which has won six Emmys and more than 100 awards internationally, is to "raise awareness and instill compassion for all beings," believing that "films can make a difference." Her first award winner, "The Urban Gorilla,"resulted in a gorilla isolated for nearly three decades being moved to live with other gorillas.
"Parrots Confidential" has won praise from pioneering primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall. In a statement, she calls it a "moving and beautifully made film" that she believes will help more people understand the lives of parrots in the wild and in captivity, and honor the people who try to protect them.
"Parrots Confidential" tells the stories of eight parrots and the challenges faced by their caregivers. One challenge is that parrots have an intense need to bond with human caregivers, so they can be adversely affected if their owner dies or there are other life or schedule changes.
Argo's film shows one Boston-area family whose yellow-naped Amazon became angry, plucking out his own feathers, when the husband went on an extended business trip, according to information from PBS.
A parrot is "not just part of your life: they become your life," says former breeder Jamie McLeod of the Santa Barbara Bird Sanctuary, who is featured in the film. McLeod says potential pet owners ask for a bird that "talks, that's quiet and that doesn't bite, and that species has not yet been discovered."
Other rescuers and former breeders from around the country -- some who care for the birds in sanctuaries, some in their homes -- are also featured in the film, telling stories of success and failure. Argo's film does not include the West Harwich couple, but there is a visit to Foster Parrot, which houses more than 500 abandoned parrots in Rhode Island.
Argo was first exposed to parrots 20 years ago through a yellow-naped amazon a family member purchased. It was the same story: The bird's care was more than the family bargained for and the situation was what Argo describes as "a disaster" -- especially for the parrot.
She hopes her new film will help people make "an educated decision" about whether they can care for a parrot and, if so, encourage them to adopt one of the thousands of parrots needing adoption. Others, she hopes, will be moved to volunteer, donate or otherwise help organizations protecting these birds.
After Wednesday's showing, "Parrots Confidential" will be available as streaming video on pbs.org/nature. There is also "how you can help" information on Argo's website at argofilms.com.
(c)2013 the Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)
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