The Condor's Shadow
A Documentary film on the recovery of the California Condor.
78 min. HD
The Condor's Shadow profiles the ongoing challenge of bringing the iconic California condor back from the brink of extinction. Biologist Joseph Brandt, zookeeper Mike Clark, toxicologist Myra Finkelstein as well as a feisty condor named Pitahsi all contribute to the narrative in a year-in-the-life story of endangered species recovery. With vérité footage shot in the ruggedly beautiful nesting habitat of the condor and interviews with those who have lived the story for more than thirty years, this heart-wrenching and beautiful film will make you appreciate the passion and hard work required to pull a species back from the brink.
The Condor's Shadow - Log Line:
Set in the ruggedly beautiful Southern California habitat of the iconic California condor, The Condor’s Shadow explores the great hope and extreme lengths that biologists, zookeepers, scientists and a feisty condor with the Native American name Pitahsi bring to the task of pulling the condor back from the brink of extinction.
The Condor’s Shadow - Short Synopsis
A beautiful and revealing story of endangered species recovery, The Condor’s Shadow profiles the ongoing work of reestablishing the nearly extinct California condor in Southern California. The film features a bold and feisty condor named Pitahsi and a larger-than-life biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Joseph Brandt. Together they reveal the passion required to sustain the California condor in a world that defies the bird’s prehistoric origins. Thirty years after a heroic effort commenced to recover the species we can begin to celebrate this story of endangered species recovery. In spite of this success, the California condor's future is not quite secure. The film explores how the use of lead ammunition in hunting prevents the largest North American land bird from flying free. The Condor’s Shadow is a moving story of an environmental challenge, passionate conservationists, and a beautiful soaring bird.
Set in Southern California, the film profiles the ongoing recovery of the California condor which early in the modern environmental movement became an important symbol of American wilderness. During a tumultuous period in the 1980’s as despiration set in to save the last remaining few condors in the wild, great controversy erupted around plans to rescue the bird. David Brower, founder of Earth First and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club famously alleged that the condor was so much a part of the wilderness it inhabited that it might as well be a "feathered pig" if removed from the wild to preserve the species. Despite protests and lawsuits, the last remaining few were removed to the zoos and the species was saved from extinction. That historical backdrop is the jumping-off point for The Condor's Shadow.
Following the Southern California recovery team into wild condor nests, the documentary reveals the inherent beauty of these huge birds soaring over the rugged refuges they call home. Interwoven with the stories told by key contributors to the condor recovery effort, we get a sense of the overriding optimism fueling endangered species recovery.
On the flip side of the equation we witness the bi-annual chore of re-capturing condors for health checks and the tedious process of treating birds poisoned by lead fragments found in their food sources. Scavengers by nature, condors consume lead found in carrion - the remains of hunter-shot game and nuisance animals that are shot on ranch lands and in the wilderness of California. Focusing on the ongoing work of creating a self-sustaining population, the story sheds light on how an environmental problem becomes intertwined with peripheral political agendas and even hunter's rights.
This is the story of the critical last ten percent that remains to be done to ensure ultimate success for the recovery program. It's a story about the challenges of re-introducing the birds into an environment containing threats that powerful forces resist any efforts to mitigate. As articulated by the biologists in the film, their ultimate goal is a healthy population of condors flying wild and free.
Even despite the bird's current status as a conservation program dependent species, the shadow the condor casts is one of an environmental success story - hopeful, uplifting and demonstrating that with just a few small human accommodations, the California condor recovery can become complete and true.
The Condor's Shadow was inspired by a January 2010 article in the Santa Barbara Independent, The Great California Condor Comeback, written by Matt Kettmann. Matt also co-wrote the film's narration and provided valuable feedback to help shape the narrative structure of the film's storyline.
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The Condor's Shadow
Research by Jessica McLoughlin, Ethan Turpin