The Legend of Pale Male -- Film Review

Amateurish storytelling threatens urban-naturalist doc, but doesn't quite kill it.

NEW YORK — The subject of Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk that took up residence in Central Park and quickly became a celebrity, remains mostly fascinating even in an amateur storyteller's hands.

The Legend of Pale Male might have made a very fine nature documentary. Yet, as it happens, an enthusiastic but not particularly gifted newcomer was the one who started shooting video early and kept returning to the scene for years, gathering enough material to tell the tale but presenting it in ways that limit its appeal to a very small theatrical niche at best. There are fair video prospects for the doc among sentimental naturalists afterward.

Frederic Lilien, a heavily accented Belgian who moved to New York City rather than join his family's law firm, narrates the film and leans much too heavily on the tenuous connections between his own youthful floundering and the phenomenon of Pale Male.

Lilien was an early admirer of the bird. Through him we meet fans who are substantially more likeable (an elderly doctor whose apartment has a perfect view of Pale Male's nest) and more technically adept (a video professional whose mammoth bird-watching telescope is dubbed "The Hubble).

While Lilien is on hand to capture impressive action scenes — we see Pale Male swoop through pigeon flocks to capture lunch and hold our breaths as his offspring learn to fly — it's hard not to wish for better production values, especially when we eventually glimpse some of the gorgeous images that video technician has shot for his website.

As it goes, the bird's acclimation to city life, the city's growing enthusiasm for him and the controversy over a luxury apartment building that took down his nest give the film enough momentum to carry it past Lilien's maudlin anthropomorphism — if only barely.

Opens: Friday, November 24 (Balcony Releasing)
Production companies: Birdjail Productions
Director/director of photography: Frederic Lilien
Screenwriter: Janet Hess
Producers: Frederic Lilien, Janet Hess
Executive producer: Fred Kaufman
Music: Lenny Williams
Editor: Frederic Lilien
No rating, 75 minutes