Tree Swallows, Tiny Superheroes, directed by Michael Hoel, is an endearing documentary that follows the life of a Tree Swallow colony set up by the filmmakers in Massachusetts. The life of the Tree Swallow, which is interpreted as likened to a superhero, because of their extraordinary gifts and fascinating social life. The film came about as a result of two years studying and filming. We see chicks hatching, fledglings fleeing the nest, mass migration and lots of other moments of the Tree Swallows’ existence.
Observational in style, the documentary is not dissimilar to other nature documentaries: reliant on voice-over for explanation and on close-up shots of different aspects of the Tree Swallows’ life cycle. The footage is confined to one location, it doesn’t try to do too much, which ultimately pays dividends in the final section of the film.
The film’s technical elements are limited. The camerawork is not particularly dynamic, but simplistic. It does the job of capturing the speed and flight of the birds. Likewise, the editing does little to add to the movements of the birds, but it effectively joins the material together. The use of music is hit and miss, at times providing a helpful thrust to the action, but at other times distracting with somewhat bizarre and ill-suited electronic tones. The film struggles with monotony at times, it can feel somewhat repetitive, but this is never a fatal issue.
This being said, Tree Swallows, Tiny Superheroes does capture some impressive footage. The film includes a number of pivotal moments in the Tree Swallows’ life, presenting them up close and personal. The dedication to watching and waiting, filming crucial events, is admirable. Equally, the passion of the filmmaker clearly comes through, particularly in the final part of the documentary as the filmmaker pleads for the Tree Swallows’ preservation. Global warming, loss of habitat, increased use of pesticides and storms has meant the Tree Swallows are dying off at an alarming rate: this the film’s parting blow.
Tree Swallows, Tiny Superheroes is a worthwhile documentary that works well within its limits. The film finds a balance between helpful information and natural footage. The message of the film, while not immediately apparent, shines through at the end as the filmmaker highlights the impact of global warming and human activity on the Tree Swallows. The documentary captures the controlled chaos, the murmuring and the great gathering of the Tree Swallows. . . with devotion and care.