Dead Bird Don’t Fly (2014) – By Kyle Hytonen

When encountering a new environment one can sometimes possess an equal resonating feeling of isolation as well as resentment to their new surroundings. The short drama Dead Bird Don’t Fly seems to circle around this very thought, and does so in a frank and sombre manner.

The film centers on Mei (Chen Chen Julian), a troubled teen of Asian decent, who is forced into immersion in an English high school by her strong willed parents. Mei seems absolutely perturbed at school. She doesn’t participate in class work, and harbours a lot of angst in dealing with her new language barriers. This behaviour leads to a dissented relationship with her homeroom teachers and ridicule from her classmates. Life at home isn’t any better for Mei. Although both of her parents come from “The old country” they press Mei to use English in her family life as well. In a particularly fresh twist, a dinner scene involving Mei, her Father (Larry Wang Parrish) and her Mother (Lee Chen) serves as a reminder that she is quite alone in her new existence. As sternly as they can, both Mei’s parents push her to speak in English, even about the most mundane of subjects. Julian gives a very good performance in this scene, as the English words she finally speaks seem to have a sour taste on her tongue as she passes them past her lips.

A bright spot in Mei’s existence comes in the form of an English tutor assigned to help Mei with her studies and transition at school. The young and lovely Ms. Newman (Eli Jane) greets Mei with a smile and a warm heart. As we soon discover, Mei seems to open up a bit more with Ms. Newman, but that soon becomes an infatuation. Mei is opening new feelings in herself she may have never had, and filtered through the strain of her traditional upbringing and isolation at school, Mei may be going down a self destructive road that could affect everyone around her.

Writer/director Charlie Sporns handles his subject matter in Dead Bird Don’t Fly very well. As a writer, he doesn’t make Mei a very sympathetic character at the outset. There are times that Mei comes across as a spoiled kid with a big chip on her shoulder, but there are also moments where you can’t help but feel sorry for her. This is a testament to both Chen Julian’s performance and Sporns controlled writing. Dead Bird Don’t Fly is a very melancholy study of Mei’s isolation. Director Sporns and cinematographer Tigran Mutafyan paint the film in very luminous colors at the outset, but as Mei’s transgression deepens, they bring apathetic blues and very drab imagery into the visuals, adding a very impressive layer to the drama.

Dead Bird Don’t Fly is a well crafted drama that succeeds in not allowing the lead to be to over-sympathetic, thusly breathing new life into a film that has a lot to say about family, acceptance, frustration and love. On a personal note, I would be very interested in seeing this film expanded as a feature length project, the characters were so well drawn out and the drama so well executed, this could be something to progress in the future. Dead Bird Don’t Fly is currently touring the festival circuit and if you would like to know more info visit the Facebook page of the film here: https://www.facebook.com/deadbirddontfly