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Interview with Jeffrey Kimball

Little bird

HBO

When were you first bitten by the bird watching bug?

JEFFREY KIMBALL

Ive been an animal lover all my life. But I wasnt a birder until I moved to New York City and had been here a while and found myself trying to escape to nature.  I love New York City, but I also missed being connected to nature.  And I discovered that when I would take vacations to national parks or wild areas, looking for birds was a good excuse to get out in nature and still be accomplishing something like a good New Yorker feels they have to do. When I got married and raised a family I moved to the Upper West Side so we could be close to the park.  Thats when I really found out that I didnt need to go to the Rocky Mountains to see nature, that there was a facsimile of nature right here in Central Park.  And the more time I spent there, the more my wife and other documentary filmmaker friends of mine heard me telling stories about the people Id met. Thats where the idea for the film grew out of.

HBO

What do you think the attraction is to birders?

JEFFREY KIMBALL

Its often been said that, because birds fly, they capture our imagination.  Birds are very colorful, and fairly conspicuous.  Most birders are interested in identifying a wide variety.  But for me, Im interested in the biodiversity aspect. Theres something wonderful about walking through a city park and seeing a bird and realizing we havent completely just paved over nature, that nature is among us.

HBO

Did the focus of the film change as you got into it?

JEFFREY KIMBALL

The aspect of the story that became more and more interesting to me as the film went on was the idea of how urban wildlife survives.   And that even in the middle of one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the United States, theres this thriving piece of nature that is kind of on top of us now.  And as one of the characters in the film says, its a perfectly valid form of nature.  Its kind of a twenty-first century idea of nature - that we are part of nature and nature is living right here with us, in the middle of a city.

"...a vacant lot, or a backyard, or a strip of road - anything can be thought of as habitat and should be preserved and treated as habitat and not abused, because it very well may be supporting a little pocket of nature."

HBO

Did the interviews come first or the footage of the birds?

JEFFREY KIMBALL

Because I didnt want to make a film about people telling us how great nature in Central Park is, and how much birds mean to them then have very few pictures of birds, I shot a lot of the bird footage first.

HBO

What do you think the birds can teach us?

JEFFREY KIMBALL

They can certainly teach us resiliency.  Here are birds that have managed to figure out how to survive in the middle of this megopolis that weve created.  Theres also something kind of purposeful about the way they go about their business. Even though theres airplanes overhead and taxi cabs zooming by, theyre going about their business.  Theyre not letting that ruffle them too much.

HBO

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

JEFFREY KIMBALL

The Central Park effect is a ornithological term, referring to what happens when you put an urban park in the middle of an urban landscape.  It will have the effect, as a magnet, of funneling birds into it.  And it does refer to our Central Park, of course, but its true for other cities.  And what I really hope people take away is that a vacant lot, or a backyard, or a strip of road - anything can be thought of as habitat and should be preserved and treated as habitat and not abused, because it very well may be supporting a little pocket of nature.  And I think thats becoming more important as the acreage of wilderness areas diminish. Every little piece of green, especially along these migratory flyways, these little urban parks are a haven for wildlife.

Birders: The Central Park Effect

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