Director Peter Lynch on noir, surveillance in his new film ‘Birdland’

by W. Andrew Powell
Birdland by director Peter Lynch

Director Peter Lynch embarks into new, dark territory for his first narrative feature-length film, the neo-noir murder mystery, Birdland. The acclaimed documentarian has spent decades crafting films like Project Grizzly, Cyberman, and A Whale of Tale, but for Birdland he had the opportunity for a completely new approach.

Co-written with Lee Gowan, Birdland is about surveillance, complex relationships, and the prevailing modern day anxiety surrounding us all.

The story revolves around Sheila Hood, played by Kathleen Munroe, a former police officer who realizes that her husband, Tom (David Alpay) is having an affair with a young woman, Merle James (Melanie Scrofano). Trying to capture what’s going on in her own home, she puts up hidden cameras, and finds herself spying on her own life. Meanwhile other parties are involved in Sheila’s story, including her former partner Calvin, played by Benjamin Ayres, a hotelier (Joris Jarsky), and Merle’s father, John James (Stephen McHattie).

“The idea and depiction of the surveillance in Birdland is seminal–the surveillance is no longer the grainy, old idea of cameras watching us. It is totally ubiquitous,” Lynch said. “The surveilled world and consciousness are totally blurred. This is a real updating of the genre, the medium, and storytelling.”

“In the age of social media, our narratives have become totally shredded–completely fractured,” he said.

“We try on personas and choose to present them on social media. This is changing the way we see ourselves, others, and is changing our very behavior. Look at Donald Trump’s tweeting,” Lynch said.

“This is the world of the characters in Birdland,” he said, “and [the film] depicts alienation in a modern marriage through these over-mediated realities.”

Talking about the film’s very detached narrative style, he said, “A lot of movies really spoon feed the story. I prefer films that give their audiences more agency to make their own meaning–and the drama has to earn itself more authentically than straight plot manipulations.”


Birdland is wonderfully weird, strange, and otherworldly, and again, that’s naturally something Lynch was trying to create.

“I wanted Birdland to have a hallucinatory strangeness to it,” he said. “Like the disorientating effect of the fragmented narrative structure, this element of disorientation is part of how memory works, that we often tell stories we prefer to be true, rather than the illusive truth. Also, I’d aim to immerse and invite the viewer to slip behind the slick materialistic surfaces and surface beauty of the characters to reveal a place where its characters lose control and their hidden desires drive them in more primordial ways.”

That style and narrative was also handled in different ways throughout the film. “I tried to hold aspects of their worlds’ realities up to different sources of illumination,” Lynch said. “I think there are opportunities to see and feel deeply with this dramatic attack and experience the film on multiple levels.”

For instance, the film’s score, “played with the idea of creating both Hood’s surveilling POV [point of view] and what her inner eye sees and feels.”

Birdland is the first in a series of noir narrative features that Lynch plans to write, direct, and co-produce over the next few years for both film and television.

Birdland opened in Toronto today at the Carlton Cinema, and expands to the Globe Theatre in Calgary and Rainbow Cinemas Golden Mile in Regina starting February 9th. The film will also play Cinemateque in Vancouver on March 6, 9, 11 and 17. Dates will also be announced for the film’s debut at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon. The film has also been released today on video on demand in Canada and the U.S., including on Amazon, Google, iTunes, Xbox, and on Vudu in the U.S. only.

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