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A Naturalist in the Rain Forest: West Coast Premiere Screening of Paul Feyling's Award-winning Film a Huge Success
by Bill Gilbert

Last spring, on May 11, the Nature Sounds Society broke new ground in its outreach endeavors, co-sponsoring, along with the Rainforest Action Network, the west coast premier screening of NSS member Paul Feyling's award-winning film, A NATURALIST IN THE RAINFOREST. A near-capacity crowd filled The George Gund Theatre of Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, and for a period of time was transported to the Costa Rican rain forest through the visual and aural artistry of Paul's film. And they learned, too, about the life and philosophy of one of the truly great naturalists of our time, Dr. Alexander Skutch.

When Dr. Skutch, a botanist by training, first arrived in Central America in 1928, he became intrigued with the beauty and variety of tropical birds. He was equally impressed with how little was known of these exotic creatures. So Skutch devoted his life to finding out. Now in his nineties, Skutch is the patriarch of neotropical ornithology. His numerous volumes on tropical bird-life, including "Life Histories of Central Americal Birds", "The Birds of Costa Rica", and the recently-released "The Mind of Birds", are testimony to Skutch's pioneering contributions. But what does one do while sitting countless hours in front of bird nests, waiting to record avian behavior? It can get boring, even for one with Skutch's enduring patience. One starts to think! And so Skutch did, and the fruits of his insights emerged in books on natural philosophy. Among these thought-provoking works are "The Quest of the Divine", "The Golden Core of Religion", "Origins of Nature's Beauty", and "Life Ascending". Although Paul Feyling spent several years traveling back and forth to Costa Rica recording tropical rain forest sights and sounds, and interviewing the grand old man of the tropics, his relationship with Skutch had not always been so harmonious in the past. While a biology undergraduate at Bowdoin College in Maine, Paul had contracted with some museums to collect tropical specimens. Knowing Skutch to be the resident authority, Paul wrote him asking pointers on collecting tropical birds, including which gun to use. Paul did not realize that Skutch was vehemently opposed to collecting wild birds, even for scientific purposes. Skutch's return letter nearly burnt a hole in Paul's desk. "Birds best be studied alive in nature, and shooting innocent birds, even in the name of science, is nothing to be proud of." Skutch replied. Paul quickly dropped birds from his collecting list. When Paul once again wrote Skutch, suggesting that they collaborate on a autobiographical/natural history film, the venerable naturalist must have forgiven Paul, since the project proceeded.

And fortunate too! For Paul has produced an absolutely marvelous film! This past spring A NATURALIST IN THE RAINFOREST received one of four annual Earthwatch Film Awards for its artistic and technical excellence. It previously had received two awards at the International Wildlife Film Festival, a Bronze Apple in Life Sciences at the National Educational Media Festival, and a Bronze Plaque at the Columbus International Film Festival. CINE honored the film with a Golden Eagle Award, and it received a Gold Plaque for Best Documentary in Science and Nature at the Chicago International Film Festival. The late Roger Tory Peterson, dean of American bird watchers, exclaimed, "I liked this film very, very much... Everyone should see this fine film."

Following the film screening, Paul discussed and demonstrated some of the techniques he used to photograph and record elusive tropical birds. Everyone then retired to the PFA lobby, where NSS members and volunteers had prepared a sumptious buffet reception. It truly was a special evening, enjoyed by all!

Articles from Fall 1996

  Letter From The Chairman

Grand Canyon Air Raid Alert

Etymotic Research ER-4 Earphones

A Naturalist in the Rainforest

Sound Recording Adventures in Antarctica (1): A Morning With the Emperors

NSS Recording Club Firsts

National Watchable Wildlife Conference '96

Nature Sounds Newsletter

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