Our Eagles by Emily Tope
Iowa (MKE Premiere)
Running Time: 11 minutes
Screening Time: Saturday, Sept 10th 3:30PM
Since its inception in 2009, the Decorah Eagle Cam has become the most-viewed live stream in internet history. Working with the camera's operator—the Raptor Resource Project—this short film explores the phenomenal popularity of a bald eagle family in the small town of Decorah, Iowa.
Emily Tope grew up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She graduated from Luther College in 2015 with a degree in English. While in college, she pursued her interest in filmmaking by directing and editing three short documentaries. Typically, these documentaries are single-subject, exploring people and stories of the Midwest (ranging from the widely popular Decorah Eagle Cam to small-town publishing house Free River Press). Currently she is pursuing careers that stimulate her interests in writing, film, and music.
"I started watching, and I got hooked." That's the phrase I kept hearing during the myriad interviews I conducted to create this documentary about the Decorah eagles. Such passion was encouraging, but there was one major problem—it just didn't make sense. Because these people weren't talking about a playlist of the funniest cat videos, the latest Shonda Rhimes show, or the Super Bowl—they were talking about a live stream of a bald eagle nest. It quickly became clear that my interviewees were not just captivated, but fascinated, moved, downright addicted to the daily goings-on in a northeastern Iowa cottonwood tree. And it's not as if these birds are special—their days are filled with such not-so-riveting activities as sitting, sleeping, eating, and flying to and fro. Yet people from all over the world tune in to watch each season's new chicks, from hatch to fledge. So many, in fact, that the Decorah Eagle Cam has become the most-watched live stream. Ever. So I had to ask myself, what was really going on? Why did my lack of love for these raptors place me in the minority?
As it turned out, this was not a question I could answer alone. In the summer of 2014, when I began screening past seasons of the Decorah Eagle Cam, essentially binge-watching 50+ hours of footage, I wasn't readily impressed. This was my first close encounter with the eagles, even though I had gone to college a mere five minutes' drive from the nest for the past three years. So after hearing of many people's enthusiasm for the nest, I combed through that footage searching for clips of interest—poignant, breathtaking, awesome moments. But each disc was just more of the same—sitting, eating, and flying, for hours on end. I soon realized that it was only through talking to fans of the Cam that I could hope to figure out its appeal. Those interviews proved to be exceedingly useful, for it was through those conversations that I found the true heart of my film—"Our Eagles" wasn't meant to be some sort of wildlife documentary, it was a social exploration, a human story. For although the eagles play an integral role, what I discovered was a story of people forging relationships and communities, making global, national, and local connections because of a shared love of these eagles, as well as a love of nature and conservation in general.
And this search for answers, these numerous interviews, lent themselves to the structure of my film as well; during its ten-minute running time, "Our Eagles" recounts the various reasons people gave to explain their attachment to these birds, moving from the surface levels to the truly profound. And as ridiculous or unbelievable some of these reasons seemed when I first heard them—and believe me, some still do—I must admit that they've grown on me. Without fully succumbing to the appeal myself, I now understand just why others love these eagles so much. And I made this film with a twofold purpose, both to share the reasons behind this globally-felt attachment, and to further illuminate the benefits of watching for those who are already hooked.
That being said, I am forever in debt to those who agreed to go on-camera and answer my repetitive and increasingly incredulous, "but why [do you watch]?" For in a sense, this is as much my film as it is the eagleholics' (yes, that's what they call themselves), offering yet another mode of sharing and connecting with one another. Because ultimately, that is what the Decorah Eagle Cam has effected—a community of viewers, laughing, learning, and sharing their experiences of these eagles, inspiring many to care for the natural environment in their own backyards and hometowns. The film, in turn, remains at its heart an exploration of how those eagles became their eagles, and their eagles became ours.
Colorado Environmental Film Festival (Feb 2016)
Golden, CO, U S A
Films @ 5 (May 2015)
Decorah, IA, U S A
Oneota Film Festival (Mar 2015)
Decorah, IA, U S A