A well-measured docu-character study, Birders: The Central Park Effect benefits from writer/director/producer Jeffrey Kimball's wise decision not to overemphasize the parallel between the behavior of birds and bird-watchers. He also, thankfully, doesn't arrange his talking-head interviews according to any hierarchy of media-world importance. Writer Jonathan Franzen gets as much face time as matron bird guide Starr Saphir, and both of them understandably get a smidge more than teenager Anya Auerbach, who articulates a common concern of young hobbyists: She doesn't consider herself to be a geek, but she does recognize the social stigma that comes with her particular obsession. Between footage of birders enthusiastically relating the reasons why they go birding, or providing historical trivia on the construction of Central Park, we learn that Saphir, who looks gaunt throughout but not frail, has terminal cancer. This revelation isn't presented as a plea for sympathy. Saphir's scenes are moving because Kimball shows her as part of a community rather than just as a singular role model. Kimball's bird footage is attractive on its own, but the way he positions his birders in conversation with one another is why Birders soars. Simon Abrams
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