DAY OF THE SPARROW is a political wildlife film. It centres around a country where the border between war and peace fades. On November 14, 2005, a sparrow is shot dead in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, after it toppled over 23000 domino stones. A German soldier dies in Kabul as a result of a suicide bombing. With these headlines appearing side by side, Philip Scheffner is induced to use ornithological methods in his quest for the war. In Germany, not in Afghanistan. Since it is here that we are faced with the question: Are we living in a state of peace or war?
His journey begins at the Baltic Sea, in 1974 on Super-8, childhood memories of a bird sanctuary situated between a military training zone and a sailing marina. Bird sightings are noted precisely, regardless of the drone of anti-aircraft missiles. Leaving the hideout behind the dyke, the camera circles the reality of war from place to place, in seemingly peaceful images. Conversations from coincidental meetings blow like sound fragments across the deserted landscapes of the Eifel, Mosel and Uckermark, from Bonn to Berlin. The birds as protagonists stay in the focus of the lens at all times. They sit in cannon barrels, on fences, flutter across meadows and fields, where war inscribed itself long ago. This is where it is contrived, this war: With words and images they aim at the minds and hearts of the people in war zones, collect and exploit scientific data, distribute kites with the lettering: “Adorn your life through freedom”.
It is not a militarisation which occured overnight. It took place slowly, in the shadow of the cold war, with the promise of secure jobs. What we need to grasp is that the critical stage has arrived. This war is not a theory anymore. Five cranes circle the sky, and the soldier takes stock of his deployment in Kabul: A second Vietman. I wanted to find my peace again. And I like the landscape here, the surroundings. For me it’s like a fortress, emotionally considered. You can also call it “golden cage”, I prefer “fortress”.
In between, the director and the Bundeswehr communicate via emails, memos, telephone calls. Concealed behind bureaucratic language lurks the fear of public resentments. A political apparatus exposes itself: It won’t be appreciated at all if we ask questions. And my experience is rather that it’s not good for our image if we show that we’re having such a discussion and asking questions.
And suddenly the perspective changes. A friend of the filmmaker is arrested on a village street in Brandenburg. The bird watchers themselves become the object of observation. There is no mass movement against this war, so every individual’s position becomes all the more important: Actually the moment is here everyday, there is no particular historical phase when it would be worth engaging in resistance, it does not exist. You have to create it yourself.
It ends with a slightly displaced view of the familiar: a military training zone at the Baltic sea situated between a bird sanctuary and a sailing marina. Missile-impacts lash the turquoise blue water; the birds above continue unswervingly onward.
Script Merle Kröger, Philip Schefffner
Director/Editor Philip Scheffner
Director of Photography Bernd Meiners
Sound Pascal Capitolin, Volker Zeigermann
Sound Design Pascal Capitolin, Karsten Höfer, Philip Scheffner
Sound Mix Pierre Brand, Kai Hoffmann
Colour Grading/Mastering Matthias Behrens
Producer/Dramature Merle Kröger
Co-producers Meike Martens, Marcie Jost, Peter Zorn
Commissioning Editor ZDF / arte Doris Hepp
Produced by pong
In co-production with
Blinker Filmproduktion, worklights media production
and with ZDF in cooperation with ARTE
Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg
Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein
Werkleitz (Supported Artist)
World Premiere: Berlinale - International Film Festival Berlin | Forum 2010
International Premiere: FID Marseille 2010
Other Festivals (selection):
- Hamburger Dokumentarfilmwoche
- Duisburger Filmwoche
- World Film Festival Bangkok
- Clair-Obscur Filmfestival Basel
- Festival International de Cine (FICUNAM) Mexiko
- Ljubljana Doc Film Festival
- MARFICI Argentinien
- Planet in Focus / Images Festival Canada
- Klaus Wildenhahn Award | Hamburger Dokumentarfilmwoche 2010
- Award of the City of Stadt Ludwigsburg | German Documentary Film Award 2011
Since the age of eight, I have been watching birds with my binoculars. A hobby which has become an obsession in the meantime - as a teenager, I spent my vacations doing voluntary work in the Wallnau bird sanctuary on the island of Fehmarn and in Behrensdorf at the Hohwachter bay. A place where my family spent their vacations over several years and my father filmed our family and the sea with his Super-8 camera. The place itself, but especially its soundscape – comprising sounds of the sea, the chirping of birds and the sounds of anti-aircraft missiles blasts – remain imprinted on my memory. Not as a threat, but rather as part of a promising “holiday soundtrack”. It was only my mother, who had experienced air raids during the Second World War, who retired on such days to the confines of the holiday cottage.
At the bird sanctuary, I met people doing their compulsory civil service who essentially shaped my stance on the military and the Bundeswehr. It was beyond all doubt that I would refuse to serve in the army. In the end, I was lucky and was exempted. In subsequent years, I increasingly swapped my binoculars for a microphone and camera. Nevertheless, I returned on a regular basis – also for filming – to the Baltic Sea.
There are some similarities in the work of a documentary filmmaker and a bird watcher. In both cases, the doctrine is that the less a person is seen or heard, the better the result. The body is clenched in odd positions, breathing slows. The minutest movements, which in turn trigger sounds and disturbances, are avoided. In the process of observing, the observer attempts to become invisible or rather to camouflage his presence. He is not involved. Actually, he isn’t there at all. The question I ask myself is how long can such a condition be maintained, and what happens when the pseudo-neutral observer suddenly becomes part of the recording.
In summer 2007, a friend of mine is arrested on the alleged charge of “terrorism”. Someone you know very well and whose stance you respect. The view of your surroundings change. The telephone sometimes crackles strangely, and the couple at the table beside yours was at the same restaurant as you a few days earlier.
“Day of the Sparrow” is an examination of the society in which I live. There are few traces of war – neither is it visible nor clearly located. The film tries to work out how and at what points do breaks open up the seemingly peaceful surface. Moments when war is visible, when the interfaces between civil life and military action blur. For me these points cannot be enumerated through a “realistic”, classic documentary way of working. It is about developing a filmic language which steers the focus to irregularities, which undermines familiar hierarchies of attention, which traces the small displacements in a seemingly homogenous image.
With “Day of the Sparrow”, I would like to create a filmic space between image and sound, analysis and imagination, which questions the apparent casualness of the current war.
Philip Scheffner, 10.01.2010
Country of Production: Germany
Year of Production: 2010
Length: 100 minutes
Image Format: HDCam transfer to 35 mm
Sound Format: Dolby Digital
Languages: German with English subtitles
Available on DVD (together with The Halfmoon Files) at Filmgalerie 451