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Crimson Wing, The
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by brianorndorf

"The great pink blur"
4 stars

Reduced to front lawn kitsch or John Waters-approved tomfoolery, achieving legitimacy has been a difficult journey for the pink flamingo. “The Crimson Wing” is a charming Disneynature documentary looking to restore some regality back to species, capturing a year in the life of the African lesser flamingo as it rises from egg to adult, fighting to avoid horrific threats from nature’s various predators along the way.

Directors Matthew Aeberhard and Leander Ward take their cameras to Lake Natron, located in southern Tanzania. With water rich in sodium carbonate, the lake hosts a community of lesser flamingos every year, who swoop in to sate their instincts, taking over the landscape in a mass orchestration of breeding. Raising little ones in a harsh, boiling environment, the filmmakers capture the essential stages of flamingo life, observing these odd-looking creatures prepare for survival. However, there’s always trouble afoot, with various enemies out to halt maturation, feasting on those who cannot keep up with the gang.

With “Earth” and “Oceans,” Disneynature was searching for the bigger picture. Hunting for a way to address the world’s beauty and ills, the documentaries bent over backwards to provide a sweeping global viewpoint. “Crimson Wing” remains intimate only with the flamingos, slimming down epic scope to capture the pink birds as they fight for life throughout the year, with the younger members of the society struggling to live long enough to see their own flying feathers grow. The sharper focus helps the film out immensely, cautiously shadowing a throng of flamingos as they instinctually figure out a way to protect themselves when everything in the land would benefit from their death.

While the majority of the feature is standard animal documentary fixings, I was impressed with the film’s eagerness to display flamingo mortality. It’s a bold “circle of life” choice from the filmmakers to reinforce the sacrifice made by the few to protect the many, as little baby chicks are picked off by storks and hyenas in a stark manner that keeps the threat of predators vivid throughout the film. Nature gets in a few licks too, with the supreme salt content of Lake Natron occasionally locking young flamingo feet in sodium shackles, paralyzing the birds. Death is a major component of “Crimson Wing,” with a refreshing matter-of-fact depiction that brings about a genuine feeling of shock. Being a Disneynature production, I kept waiting for the eventual cutaway, but the documentary rarely flinches, showing exactly how outside forces slip in and feast on the weaker flamingos. It’s ghastly, but hey, that’s nature.

The brutality is only a small portion of the film, with more time devoted to the serenity of flight and the remarkable vistas surrounding Lake Natron, detailing the magnitude of the area before a final reveal of ecological damage. Honestly, the flamingo is an odd choice to topline a nature documentary, yet “Crimson Wing” strikes a compelling tone as it investigates a frequently misunderstood bird, soaking up the beauty of their temporary realm, watching as they move from tiny curious creatures to eye-catching adults with a most urgent of purpose.

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originally posted: 04/15/11 01:08:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Edinburgh International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 19-Oct-2010



Directed by
  Matthew Aeberhard
  Leander Ward

Written by
  Melanie Finn

  Zabou Breitman

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