Let me begin this column by emphatically stating that I am not a film critic by any stretch of the imagination. I usually leave that up to Peter Cates, The Town Line’s esteemed reviewer. But I saw a film recently that truly inspired me, and because it is about geese, I think it fits the theme of this column.
The name of the movie is Fly Away Home, and for those of you who have already seen it, you’re excused from reading the rest of this column.
It was filmed in 1996, and dramatizes the actual experiences of Bill Lishman, who, in 1986, started training geese to follow his ultralight and succeeded in leading their migration in 1993.
The story line of the film begins when Amy Alden, played by Anna Paquin, survives an automobile accident in New Zealand in which her mother is killed. The girl is sent to live with her father, Thomas Alden, played by Jeff Daniels of Dumb & Dumber fame, on an Ontario, Canada, farm.
Her father is involved in a dispute with a local developer who is prepared to bulldoze some of the wilderness surrounding Alden’s farm. The crew begins to clear the land, but, for some unexplained reason, the project is put on hold. Amy goes out to the scene only to find a bunch of goose eggs left behind by their parents. Without anyone knowing, she takes the eggs to the barn where she uses a drop light to provide heat to incubate the eggs. To her surprise, they all hatched.
The local game warden appears at the house and informs everyone that because of a local ordinance, he would have to clip the wings so the birds would be rendered flightless. This upsets everyone, and Tom throws the game warden out of his house, after which the warden threatens that if the birds fly, he would have to confiscate them.
Tom begins to research the species and learns that if the birds aren’t taught to fly properly, as they have no goose parents to teach them, they would not survive during the Canadian winter, and would probably get lost and die. Once he notices the geese follow Amy wherever she goes, he decides to use ultralight aircraft to teach the birds to fly. The geese would not follow him, so he comes up with a plan to teach Amy how to fly, and the geese would probably follow her.
Amy’s uncle Dave, played by Terry Kinney, travels to North Carolina to talk to a friend who owns a bird sanctuary about the plan. The friend thinks the idea is absurd, and also informs Dave that if the birds don’t reach the sanctuary by November 1, it would be torn down by developers who plan to turn it into a housing project.
While the group is off trying to find a goose (Igor) that became lost due to injury while the Aldens were trying to teach the geese how to fly, the game warden confiscates the birds. But, through a clever plan, they reclaim the geese, and set off on their intrepid flight to North Carolina, breaking a lengthy list of laws during the journey. Some misadventures occur along the way, including an emergency landing at a highly-classified U.S. Air Force base on Lake Ontario, and Tom’s ultralight going down in a cornfield, only 30 miles from the destination, due to a faulty rudder. By now, Tom and Amy have become national news with residents cheering them on and offering places to stay during their overnight stops.
Tom convinces Amy that she must go on alone, and she completes the journey safely.
One of the most moving scenes in the film occurs when, while piloting through a cloud of mist, the office towers of Baltimore, actually shot in Toronto, suddenly materialize, and office workers see the little girl and her geese flying past their windows. While watching that, I felt a lump in my throat and goosebumps on my neck.
In the final screen credits, it is revealed that all 16 geese, including Igor, who had been injured, and rode the whole way with Amy in her ultralight, returned to the Aldens’ farm the next spring, safely, and on their own.
It is a heart-warming story as you get captivated by the dedication of the family, and the steadfastness of the geese. I highly recommend it.
Roland’s trivia question of the week:
When was the last time the Kansas City Chiefs appeared in a Super Bowl?