Paradise

Freedom Flyers: Ishu Patel’s Paradise

Films

For many of us, part of being alive is wanting what we don’t or can’t have. The curly ones dream of straight hair, the straight-haired ones wish they had “more volume,” and everyone’s neighbour’s grass is greener than their own. Ahh, life.

For the little black bird in this dazzling Ishu Patel short, things are more complex. What this bird so desperately covets – flamboyant beauty and the admiration it commands – comes with a hefty price tag. Sure, a scintillating palace is swell. Being adored and hand-fed by a sultan isn’t too shabby either. But as our midnight-feathered friend eventually finds out, the palace is actually a glittering cage, and the turbaned sultan, a jailer.

Fig. 1: The fancy shape-shifting bird, in its cage-palace.

Is that what the black bird really desires? Magnificent gilded captivity? As for many things in life, pondering alone doesn’t cut it. The bird needs to find out for himself… the hard way.

For this tale about freedom, appearances and longing, acclaimed animator Ishu Patel pulled all the stops. Combining different techniques, including paper cutouts and back-lit pinholes (which he used for the onion-domed oriental palace), he created a lush feast for the eyes. It’s mind-blowing to think the film was made on 35 mm film, without the assistance of any animation software. (The year was 1984.)

Fig. 2: The black bird, fantasizing about potential embellishments.

Three visual highlights bear mentioning:

1) The captive bird’s dance. The winged creature gracefully flies around its cage and morphs into every kind of bird imaginable (including a bird-headed man creature reminiscent of Horus), to a languorous flute soundtrack. Mesmerizing.

2) The palace. That thing is insane.

3) The wondrous outdoors. Birds, flowers, cacti, trees! Nature is so expertly and lovingly depicted that I briefly considered walking away from my desk and going camping.