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Review: Surprises from an animal hoarder in documentary ‘For the Birds’

Review: Surprises from an animal hoarder in documentary ‘For the Birds’
Kathy Murphy in a scene from "For the Birds." (Lunamax Films)

Those who watch their local news are familiar with this far too frequent story: authorities rescue countless animals from an overcrowded home. But after showing horrific images of starving, bedraggled creatures, they move on to the next headline without the time to explore the narrative further. With “For the Birds,” director Richard Miron offers an empathetic character study of an animal hoarder who defies expectation, making a documentary that does the same in the process.

In upstate New York, Kathy Murphy lives with her husband, Gary, and almost 200 birds: chickens, ducks, geese and a pair of turkeys. The frequent crowing and cramped conditions have led to the SPCA being brought in to intervene, but we don’t see evidence of abuse.

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Instead, Kathy loves each of these birds as though they’re her children, but there’s a gap between her ability to care for them and what the animals need. However, “For the Birds” isn’t just a story about Kathy’s treatment of the birds; it takes a turn, expanding into something unexpected and even richer as we experience a deeper understanding of Kathy and her relationships.

While the documentary evolves in its scope, Miron’s feature debut always remains evenhanded. “For the Birds” is kind to its subject, while recognizing the harm she’s inadvertently doing. Animal hoarding is far more complex than most would imagine, but this film handles it with care.

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‘For the Birds’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Starts June 14, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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