Broken Bird

Rachel Harrison-Gordon, an MFA/MBA candidate at NYU Tisch/Stern, says that she hopes to create films, commercials and music videos that highlight the different ways people come of age. Broken Bird, her directorial debut, does just that.

This 10 minute tale of the run up to Bat Mitzvah of a mixed race daughter of separated parents, has won Sundance and Heartland Festival plaudits.

For good reason. In my view this is a perfect example of great film story-telling being ‘show not tell’. The director is brave enough to allow the camera to do the work, give the actors the time, let the music loose. When Birdie steps out of the car the camera circles her twice, slowly, and then follows her; I feel the gap she lives in between her parents. I don’t need script and the director knows this.

Every scene is a masterclass in the power of the team effort: acting, music and cinematography combine to tell this story with a calm reflection. The cinematographer moves the camera close and we absolutely know what is in the heads of the subjects. And each close-up shows us texture: the shampoo in the hair, the print in the Torah, the glitter on the fingernails.

This film is confidently put together by people who know their craft: they know that we will learn the story as they reveal it with every subtlety. The translation of the Torah shows vows that she must know her parents’ break up will contradict. Her rabbi’s assurance that Egypt is in Africa conveys how the synagogue is trying to claim her despite her gentile father. The contrast of the mother being early at the handover location when her father had been late, foreshadows the unreliability of her father in the final scene.

Each scene, each detail, each breath in Broken Bird is there for a purpose and moves the story along. And there is a great attention to detail that a first-timer normally overlooks: the audio editing of the muffled conversation through the car window, the tapping of the Star of David in time with the music, the quiet, unannounced religious symbolism in Birdie’s bedroom and around her neck.

Ultimately, Birdie is her father’s daughter. It oozes from the dialogue and from the silences. Watch out for the blocking: the mother is shot looking down on her as she plays her records; her father sits low, to be level with her, in the diner. But when her dad fails to turn up for the Bat Mitzvah we finally understand why she is so ‘defended’: this is a girl with an upbringing in disappointment. When she turns and walks into the synagogue alone we get it: she has grown up.

With a degree in engineering and work experience with the Obama administration, Harrison-Gordon brings more to this film than just film.

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