Bird-watching documentary by True/False co-founder airs on PBS

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 | 7:41 p.m. CDT; updated 9:19 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 23, 2011

COLUMBIA — When local filmmaker and True/False Film Fest co-founder David Wilson first heard of the world of competitive bird-watching, he laughed.

"It seemed like a weird combination of activities: something as serene as bird-watching and then making it competitive," Wilson said.

In April 2009, Wilson followed his uncle Marty Riback and his childhood friend Chris Hitt as they traveled to Senora, Mexico, in an attempt to set a record for the most species of birds viewed within 24 hours.

"Big Birding Day," Wilson's 13-minute documentary about the trip, will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday on PBS as part of the POV series of short documentaries.

"It's huge," said Wilson. "PBS is about as lofty a place as one can go with a short documentary, and POV is a great show."

Wilson said he was more fascinated by the "why" of competitive bird-watching than the "what."

"What interested me was what made these people decide to pick this pastime," he said.

Wilson said making the film also gave him insight into what some people call the "collector gene." The collector gene is what inspires people to collect baseball cards or stamps, and it's what makes people into hard-core bird-watchers, Wilson said.

Riback was reluctant to describe himself as a competitive birdwatcher, but his enthusiasm for the hobby was evident.

"For me, it's just being with the group of people I bird with," Riback said. "There are really gorgeous birds and really beautiful birds, and there are birds I just carry good memories about because of where I was when I saw them."

"Big Birding Day" debuted at the True/False Film Fest in 2010 and was shown at Ragtag Cinema as part of their CoMO Film Showcase July 1, 2010.

PBS will re-air "Big Birding Day" at 2 a.m. Aug. 25 and Aug. 28. The film also will be available online Aug. 24.

Meanwhile, Wilson is on to his next project, a feature-length documentary on the city of Branson, a tourist mecca in southwestern Missouri. He expects the film to premiere some time next year.

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