Pelican Dreams: A Work in Progress

Updates on the Film in Progress gigi on bridge

Because pelicans have an ancient magic about them, and because their near-extinction and recovery parallel our human relationship to the environment, I've been wanting to make a film about them for years, but I needed a good story! One August afternoon, a confused young pelican landed on the roadway of the Golden Gate Bridge, causing a spectacular traffic jam and providing the beginning of a perfect narrative arc for this film.

As I track this brown pelican—tired, hungry, and disoriented—from her “arrest” on the bridge (she was transported in a police car) to a nearby seabird rescue center, the film broadens to explore the implications of our urban world view, and how it affects nature.

close up eye“Gigi” (named for “Golden Gate”) was only about four months old when she landed on the bridge. The film re-creates her probable prior history: hatching in the Channel Islands, migrating up the coast with other juveniles, perhaps stopping over at the Farallon Islands before she made her drastic miscalculation at the bridge. Threaded with Gigi’s story from crisis to recuperation to release is my search for the person who knows pelicans best. Is it the scientist who has been studying them for 40 years? The fisherman who gets to know them at the dock and at sea? The rehab worker at the rescue center? Perhaps it’s the nutty lady who takes injured pelicans into her home. Who can truly “know” a wild animal? Do pelicans dream? As they soar gracefully above the waves and dive with an explosive crash, as they waddle awkwardly on land, these odd, pterodactylic birds begin to define themselves.

pelican flyingBy focusing on one species—the California brown pelican—that everyone knows and many love, and by following the story of an individual bird as she moves through human hands and back to the wild, I hope to create an unforgettable link in viewers’ minds and hearts to our magnificent, yet fragile bay and coastline. San Francisco is a marine city; it’s the perfect location for this film.
— Judy Irving | See Gigi get arrested