On Plum Island, Massachusetts, nature photographer Michael Hoel and others are documenting the various birds that populate the island. But he finds himself drawn to sleek beauty the least tern, also known as the little striker for its habit of suddenly diving directly down at the water to capture fish. His fascination with them leads him to spend the next 3 seasons chronicling them.
“Little Striker” contains the kind of patient, magical wildlife footage audiences have come to expect from films such as “March of the Penguins” and “Winged Migration”. We follow the least tern and learn about their mating rituals, survival techniques, and how they care for their eggs and hatchlings. His attentive camera catches them playfully teasing each other and deftly avoiding larger predators and competitors for food. Hoel narrates the proceedings and while it gives the film a personal touch, his voice doesn’t exactly have the weight of David Attenborough.
About 30 minutes into the 45 minute running time, Hoel’s film shifts into discussing the reasons for the near decimation of the least tern. Even Marie Antoinette is not safe as Hoel levels the blame on the trend of women in the past wearing bird feathers as a fashion accessory. The film switches from a nature documentary to a slideshow of stock photos of women through the years (up until the 1920’s when the wearing of feathers fell out of fashion). It’s tragic, but not quite as grotesque a revelation on the level of “The Cove” or “Blackfish”.
It’s undeniable that Michael Hoel is very passionate about the least tern and is concerned about their continued survival. It’s just that this short documentary is so brutally specific that it may have a problem finding an audience.