DIRECTED BY: Nicholas Fackler
FEATURING: Dana Altman, Ross Brockley, Nicholas Fackler
PLOT: A cast and crew of drug addicts/imbeciles travel to the heart of Central Africa to partake of a rare psychedelic that is rumored to cure drug addiction. Once they arrive, they encounter spirituality, mysticism, and their own bloated egos.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There is nothing truly abnormal about what befalls our plucky adventurers in this docu-something about interlopers in the Garden of Eden (aren’t we all?). Director Nicholas Fackler positions himself as a Colonel Kurtz of visual storytelling, but emerges from this breezy jungle nightmare looking more like Dennis Hopper’s shell-shocked photojournalist.
COMMENTS: At the heart of Sick Birds Die Easy is a message that speaks to the heart of the human experience. Unfortunately, for all concerned, that message is “I dunno either, man.” It’s a propaganda movie about the benefits of iboga, a plant that even the film doubts the real merits of; a drama about Nick’s annoying friends trapped in a Why-Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along crisis; a harrowing thriller about being lost in the jungle with a load of nitwits surrounded by danger; and an aloof, self-loathing indie comedy with an admittedly killer soundtrack. And while these are all interesting angles, when none of them in this movie seem to lead anywhere or are expressed with any conviction or belief in anything. Ironically, it ends up as a film about a film getting lost.
In a voice that was made for documentary narration, Nick Fackler spins a tale in the opening moments about the grandiose ideas he plans to tackle: spirituality, primordial magic, alternate reality, and an Apocalypse that will reveal the next direction of human consciousness. The next minute destroys any hope that these ideas will ever be explored seriously in this film again, as musician Sam Martin drunkenly opines about being a gay baby who needs a diaper during the opening credits. The picture never sets up a goal or a narrative that is satisfyingly fulfilled in any way; even the main quest, which involves getting Nick’s drug dealer Ross to the Pygmy tribe’s Fwiti ritual so he can be cleansed of his drug-loving ways, is neither embarked upon meaningfully (they all bring drugs into the jungle!) or brought to a satisfying conclusion.
Perhaps, in a post-modern context, this film is a deconstruction of expectations, narrative, or reality itself. From the press material, and even from the shaky-cam film festival Q&As these stoner-philosophers sit for, it is difficult to determine whether or not the events of Sick Birds Die Easy were of a non-fictitious nature, especially considering the insane and the insanely conveniently cinematic way the movie unfolds. It’s chock full of gripping indie trailer moments and feats of such uncanny luck that would make Las Vegas blush with envy. It could be construed as a deconstruction of the documentary genre as a whole. But if that is the case, and all these loose ends are really missiles pointing at the human need for resolution in art, then I still have a problem with Sick Birds Die Easy, because it has also deconstructed joy, hope, and optimism in the name of questionable art. I hope that this is a film merely without a brain, and not without a heart.
Sick Birds, for all the questions it raises, is a well-constructed documentary (?) with a good narrative engine that drives along at a humming pace to the beat of some good tunes by Sam Martin. Nick Fackler has an eye for what intrigues people visually, and he creates a vista that gives us a grand look at his burgeoning capabilities as a filmmaker. But intellectually, this experience suffers from too many shallow, mildly psychopathic, or perhaps merely bleak ideas, placed behind the veils of “spirituality,” “alternate realities,” “apocalypse”, and other trailer buzzwords. Watch Sick Birds Die Easy, like our intrepid dopes going into the jungles of Africa, at your own risk. And leave your common sense at the door; you won’t need it.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“So what’s Sick Birds Die Easy really about? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure. I’m still completely on the fence as to whether I can take the movie seriously as a documentary, or not.” -Amy R. Handler, Film Threat