A young man is running. Long strides eating up the ground in front of him at a furious pace. He’s not a jogger, he’s not in a track suit, he isn’t running to get fit but he is running for his health. It soon becomes clear he’s being chased. A group of “jocks” are after him, but they can’t keep up and soon Martin “Bird” Johnson reaches the safety of his home. Of course safety is a relative term. His pursuers may be thwarted, but Martin’s grandfather is waiting. He begins beating the 17 year old with his cane for being out all night. It becomes clear that life for Bird is not easy and that the only time no one can touch him is when he runs. That is the opening of writer/director Kelley Baker’s film KICKING BIRD.
Martin (Ian Anderson-Priddy) is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. His mother is in prison, his father is gone and his grandfather (Danny Bruno) deals out his idea of good parenting with blows from his cane. Martin is biding his time until he graduates (or gets expelled) then he and his friend Digger (Andrew Ox) will head to L.A. to start a band. That’s Digger’s dream and Martin doesn’t have anything better to do so it’s his plan too.
Things start to change though when his school’s track coach (Don Alder) sees Bird out running the jocks again. The “jocks” are his track team and he realizes that with some training, Bird could become his ticket out of coaching high school track and into college coaching job. So the coach becomes Martin’s friend and convinces him to join the track team. Martin doesn’t see the manipulative side of coach, even when his friends point it out to him, what he sees is something that had never appeared to him before: hope. Martin starts to hope that he can make something of himself by getting a track scholarship. But can Bird run fast enough to escape what he perceives to be his destiny and start a new life, or will his own anger and lack of confidence leave him trapped no matter how hard he runs?
KICKING BIRD is a coming of age story that feels very real. Martin is a troubled teen. He’s angry at the world and only wants to be left alone or hang with his few friends. It becomes clear that many of his troubles are brought on by his own attitude and anger as much as the way the cards seem to be dealt against him. However, when he starts to see a ray of hope for his future he is willing to change and fight for what he wants rather than accepting what he’s been given. Baker also brings some surprising depth to characters that at first seem somewhat one dimensional, such as Martin’s grandfather, who could easily have been left as nothing more than one of the many sources of Martin’s problems. Instead we are allowed to see the reasons for his actions and become more sympathetic to him.
While the basic elements of KICKING BIRD are nothing new, a down and out kid tries to find a way to make something better for himself in the world, Baker doesn’t dwell on stereo-types and takes the story in different directions than one might expect. A true independent film, KICKING BIRD doesn’t let its limited budget hold it back. Baker makes good use of his resources and the technical skills developed during his career working in the film industry to make sure that every dollar of the limited budget is on the screen and he avoids many of the common mistakes of independent film such as poor lighting or sound quality. In fact, speaking of sound quality, one surprisingly good aspect of the film is its sound track, good music that sets a steady pace for the film. An excellent, dramatic, character driven film, KICKING BIRD proves that even while Hollywood spends tens of millions of dollars releasing remakes and “safe bet” action films, there are filmmakers out there who can do with very little financial resources, what Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to do: tell a good story. So if you want to see big stars in retread roles, head to the cinema and check out the latest celebrity vehicle. If you want to see a good film check out Kelley Baker’s KICKING BIRD.
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