Bushwick-based filmmaker Richard Miron is at home both in our corner of the borough as well as in upstate New York. That’s because over the last seven years he’s been working on a feature length documentary film, “For The Birds,” which will be receiving its theatrical debut at IFC Center in Manhattan on Friday, May 31.
The documentary, which will be Miron’s first feature after contributing to other films including the Oscar-nominated “Life Animated,” tells the complicated and multi-faceted story of an animal welfare case regarding not a dog, cat, pig, or goat — but over 200 birds owned by Wawarsing, NY resident Kathy Murphy.
Miron has been living in Bushwick for six years since graduating from Yale University, where he studied not only documentary filmmaking, but also a broad liberal arts education — including psychology, literature, and fine arts. A long-time vegan and animal lover, he spent a semester off travelling organic farms in Spain, solidifying his veganism, and considering alternate lifestyles and degrees of separation from society and culture.
Miron returned to Yale with the knowledge that while he appreciated alternate forms of happiness and out-of-the-box lifestyles, he knew he wanted to remain a part of, and influence, culture. It was shortly after this return to school that Miron came to documentary filmmaking after falling in love with the form and its complexities.
“I was interested in the moral dilemmas that came from following an individual for a documentary,” Miron said. “I was wrestling with that onscreen and saying that this truth can exist and this truth can also exist as the opposite. That’s the magic of it.”
It was this duality that led Miron to Kathy Murphy, the main subject of “For The Birds,” and her myriad of ducks, chickens, geese, and turkeys. He met her through the Woodstock Animal Sanctuary, where he volunteered for only a weekend on the hunt for a subject in animal rights to cover. When Woodstock Farm Sanctuary received the call about Murphy, Miron was lucky enough to be able to bring along his camera to this first visit to Murphy, a so-called “animal-hoarder.”
Instantly attracted to Murphy’s warmth, kindness, love for her animals, and affinity for the camera, Miron knew this was a multi-sided story he had to follow.
“I wanted to follow an animal rescue story not only from the perspective of the animal rescue. I wanted to put myself and the audience in the shoes of the person who is neglecting animals,” Miron said. “I wanted the audience to empathize with someone they didn’t expect to empathize with.”
What started as a short film quickly grew into a project that Miron continued to work on to bring it to feature length, bringing on fellow Bushwick resident Jeffrey Star to run sound and camera. For the following five years of on-location shooting, they got to know Kathy and her husband Gary, as well as the individual animal rescue activists at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, and the local SPCA, who were heading the rescue operation on the unruly bird colony.
While originally a story about animal ethics, the story has grown from that first day on the ride-along with the Woodstock Sanctuary to encompass so much more to both the filmmaker and the audience. In the end, it was this empathy for not just the typical-perspective of the animal rescue but also Kathy, her husband, and also the birds that made this film truly special for Miron.
“We had this undercurrent that we called The Pond Arc,” Miron said. “Everyone, much like Kathy’s ducks, just wants to get to their pond. Everyone just wants to find peace and happiness.”
Miron himself found his pond at the film’s world premiere at the Sheffield Film Festival in the UK, where the film received a heartfelt reception despite Miron’s initial nerves. After Sheffield, “For The Birds” went on to 21 other festivals internationally, including DocNYC, AFI Docs, and even the Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Australia.
Now the film will premiere not only here in New York at the IFC Center, but also at the Laemmle Monica Theater in Los Angeles. For Miron it feels like a long way from his years spent commuting from Bushwick to Wawarsing, and his months spent editing years of footage in the artist studio space above Richie’s Gym, with Friday night crew dinners at the vegan Champ’s Diner.
While Miron looks forward to his next project — writing the script for his first narrative — he is also excited to see how even more audiences in its theatrical release will react to the film’s unconventional story and protagonists.
“We try to let people come to their own conclusions,” Miron said. “I’m the kind of filmmaker who doesn’t want to tell anyone what to do. I just watch.”
See “For The Birds” at the IFC Center beginning on May 31 for a limited engagement. Tickets are available here.
All images courtesy of Richard Miron.
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