On The Wing tells the story of a remarkable flock birds that became the heart of a wonderful American city where people work to coexist with nature instead of smoking it out.
The film is the first feature-length documentary by Real Earl Productions. It marks the directorial debut of Dan Viens, who funded On The Wing himself and made it as a one-man-band.
The stars of On The Wing are tiny birds called Vaux Swifts that, since the early 1980's, have taken up residence in the chimney of a Portland, Oregon Elementary School during the month of September.
Each night during the Swifts' residency, thousands of them fill the sky above Chapman Elementary School. Just before sunset, the birds form a dramatic vortex and dive into the chimney in an amazing aerial display. In years past, the flock has been estimated to be the largest collection of roosting Swifts in North America at nearly 40,000 birds.
In the early days, when turning on the heat would have meant killing thousands of birds, teachers and students chose to wear sweaters to school while the birds were in the chimney. However, some tension within the school and community led the Audubon Society of Portland to get involved and find a permanent solution. The chimney has since been retrofitted so it is exclusively for the birds.
Since the early 1990's, the event has become a cult phenomenon in Portland, drawing hundreds and sometimes thousands of people nightly to watch the amazing display. The crowd behaves like a mix between college football fans and a symphony orchestra audience. They sit at attention in awe of the birds but burst out in cheers and jeers as birds of prey roar through the Swift flock. A band has been named after the birds. T-shirts and water bottles have been printed and the event has become a must see during the fall in Portland.
The film documents the birds' 2007 residency. Interviews with members of the crowd, Chapman Elementary School neighbors and faculty, Audubon Society of Portland staff and a cast of characters explain how the phenomenon came to be and how it has evolved into what it is today. Amazing footage of the birds, including a view from inside the chimney, gives audiences an extraordinary, never-before-seen view of the Swifts.
On The Wing captures the quirky community, energy and excitement of the entire Swifts phenomenon and exhibits the what can happen when people step up to take care of the beauty that exists in their own backyards.
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