A film by Anthony Sherin
“I saw an infinite number.”
~Jacques Cartier, Prince Edward Island, July, 1534
“The destruction of the Passenger Pigeon has meant a loss as severe as if the Catskills or the Palisades were taken away. When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer has perished….”
~ Theodore Roosevelt, February 16, 1899
AN INFINITE NUMBER
Once the most populous bird on the planet, passenger pigeons numbered in the billions. They migrated in 300-mile long flocks that could eclipse the sun for several days. The birds dominated the forests of North America, much like the bison dominated the Great Plains, in what naturalist Aldo Leopold called a “biological storm.” I will make a film that captures this spectacle and dramatizes the extinction of the species.
Native Americans and European settlers hunted the passenger pigeon for food, but with the coming of the telegraph and railroad, the birds were hunted on an industrial scale and were doomed: the telegraph was used to direct hunters to nesting sites and the railroads transported the meat to cities. Unlike the bison, the passenger pigeon did not reproduce in captivity. The centennial of the death of the last bird of the species is September 1, 2014.
An Infinite Number is based on descriptions found in newspapers, magazines, and diaries in the collection of the New York Public Library. Because the flocks vanished before the invention of the movie camera and no film footage exists, the story will be told with hand-drawn animation. The focus is on the birds; humans are only seen in silhouette, over the shoulder, and from side angle. The running time of the film will be approximately thirteen minutes.
With my short documentary, Solo, Piano – NYC, I experienced the power of telling a story that is driven by images, one that does not rely on narration or interviews. An Infinite Number will do the same. The film opens with the first sighting of the birds by European explores in 1534 and ends in the present, at a storage locker that contains the stuffed remains of the last bird. The story is designed to unfold in a three-act structure: suspense and wonder in the beginning; conflict and a little fun in the middle; and a final tragic ending with resolutions. It will be told with facts, not sentimentality. I want audiences to be deeply moved and compelled to learn more about a bird once called “a living wonder of the New World.”
Today, one in eight of all bird species are in danger of extinction. E.O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, estimates that we may be “losing species at a rate of 30,000 per year.”
The time to tell this story is now.