Film Review: Toucan Nation (2016)
If you are a person who cares about climate, the environment, nature, human rights, civility, animal rights, religious freedom, or any of the other tenets dear to the hearts of thoughtful, open-minded, sentient beings - these are dark days, indeed. It seems as if there are tectonic shifts in thinking and behavior being shaped and institutionalized by government and powerful special interests which are shadowy and difficult to resist, much less to overcome. It is in that context that I found some encouraging good news serendipitously at a private screening with friends.
I would not normally write about something which is currently only available on youtube. But, in this case, it gave me a reminder that things can and are being done on the smallest of scales, by individuals as well as children, which can have an impact and change awareness, raise consciousness, and, amazingly, change the institutions. Toucan Nation is just such a story. The premise sounds so unlikely, which is what makes its impact so striking. What would make you choose to go to a film about a Toucan whose beak has been cruelly cut off by vandals, and who becomes the icon for a rallying cry against animal abuse? Yet that is exactly what occurred in Costa Rica and the movement which was inspired by this senseless act resulted in laws being enacted to protect animals from abuse by humans. It is a credit to the filmmakers that they have made this a totally engaging film.
Costa Rica is home to one of the most biodiverse populations of animals and birds anywhere. As a result they are far ahead of other countries in appreciating its importance and protecting it. The focus of this film is the dedicated staff of Zooave, an animal rescue center which takes in injured or orphaned animals of every type and performs heroic interventions to save even the smallest creatures. The ones which are too damaged to be released back into the wild are cared for in the facility for life and are on view to the public so that they can be aware and appreciate the importance of the wildlife around them and recognize how vulnerable it all is.
The media attention garnered by this one bird, Grecia, named after the village where it lived, inspired a whole group of technicians from various fields to try to come up with a solution to restore Grecia’s beak. If you are familiar with these birds you will know that the protuberant upper beak is often as large as it’s body. And the fact that, if you are a bird, half of the tasks related to life are done with the beak - ie. procuring and eating food, grooming, feeding, and protecting oneself. The efforts to make this bird whole again are beyond inspiring. There were dentists, prosthetic technicians, and 3-D printing engineers. The process of trial and error to figure out the best way to achieve the goal is filmed in a way that is completely riveting. The funding was raised by donations and by the pro bono work of scientists and technologists.
And, by the way, Grecia, is the most adorable little bird, even in its mutilated condition (initially very hard to look at). Maybe it is due to the extreme sensitivity of the handlers, or perhaps the specialness of this particular bird, that it seems to completely trust all of this human intervention and remains calm and completely still for a scan which takes many minutes without moving. Remarkable to see. When the new beak has been created and is attached without anesthesia (birds are too delicate to withstand it), I could not imagine any creature surviving it. Yet Grecia handles it with aplomb, and immediately goes about all of the normal toucan behaviors without missing a beat. It is as if it had never been missing a beak. Astonishing to see.
A lot of the film deals with the ground swell movement, beginning with the outrage, followed by demonstrations, the engagement of children, the activism of the animal rights organizations, and the negotiations with a disinterested government, driven by the attempts by one intrepid female politician to get a law enacted to protect all animals from abuse. This little dynamo is the Jane Jacobs of Costa Rica, speaking truth to power. By the film’s end the law has not been enacted. But it had been brought up and voted on. I have learned from the director that since then the law has passed. It is a major triumph and it filled me with hope and that is something in short supply and something I will continue to look for. It is such a small yet potent story and to me, it is significant and instructive.
Review by Belle McIntyre