Daniel Byers’ Aguilucho: Dance of the Harpy Eagle has the same stories and visuals that environmental documentary shorts have. But they’re my kind of familiar in that they’re good. This documentary in particular has drone shots of the Darien Gap in Panama, home to the beaches and the forests. It also shows houses and other signs of habitation. Clues that these forests and mountains are home to Indigenous people like the Embera. It’s also home to the animals that they’re taking care of like the titular aguilucho. Eventually, the documentary lets us hear the voice over of the of the Embera’s elders. He speaks in a mix of Embera and Spanish about the conflicting stories that they’ve assigned to the harpy eagle. For the most part though, this specie of eagle is a father of all birds. And it’s one they like to preserve.
In bringing up the harpy eagle into discourse, or trying to anyway, Aguilucho narrows its scope. The preservation of one specie is the preservation of all species. Saving the world starts with one animal. The documentary then has its obligatory shots of the eagle. It’s a different looking one from the ones we North Americans see. The cuteness of its fluffy head balances out its beak and strong expressions. Shots like this remind me other other docs. Specifically, ones that talk about how preserving some animals are easier than others because of the animals looks. This documentary shoots this animal beautifully but also in a frank way. It’s honest about what this eagle must do to survive. And it’s honest about how that process involves doing its part as a predator in the food chain.
Viewers are witnessing this survival in similar ways as members of the Embera people. A more cynical take on Aguilucho is that it’s basically a birdwatching documentary. But seeing the Embera people embrace both modernity and nature hits different. There’s something nice about seeing the Embera people take on a more active and productive role in preserving the environment. The subjects here do discuss the almost insurmountable tasks they have. They must preserve their animals and their environment, but this documentary makes it looks like they’re winning. The documentary might be too optimistic about their take on this particular struggle. But it’s still nice to see and most of the camera work looks trustworthy here. This is perfect viewing for Earth Day.
Watch Aguilucho: Dance of the Harpy Eagle on OVID.