Kiggins Theatre: ‘The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill’ has special local connection

Mark Bittner, a 1969 graduate of Columbia River High School, is the focus, along with parrots, of a 2003 documentary film: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The film has been remastered and will be playing at Kiggins Theatre for a five-day run beginning Friday. Bittner grew up going to movies at Kiggins. Photo courtesy Shadow Distribution
Mark Bittner, a 1969 graduate of Columbia River High School, is the focus, along with parrots, of a 2003 documentary film: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The film has been remastered and will be playing at Kiggins Theatre for a five-day run beginning Friday. Bittner grew up going to movies at Kiggins. Photo courtesy Shadow Distribution

Mark Bittner, a 1969 graduate of Columbia River High School, saw his life change when he took care of a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco, and they took care of him

Paul Valencia
ClarkCountyToday.com

An award-winning film that chronicled the year in the life of a man and his relationship with a flock of parrots has been remastered, and 20 years after its debut, it will be showing at Kiggins Theatre later this week.

That just happens to be the hometown theater of the man in the film.

Mark Bittner is a 1969 graduate of Columbia River High School. He grew up watching movies at Kiggins Theatre, and now, a documentary that he is featured in will be on the marquee.

“The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill” is coming to Main Street, Vancouver, USA.

“I love that place,” Bittner said. 

When the documentary debuted in 2003, the film played in Vancouver but in one of the bigger theaters.  

“I wanted it to play at Kiggins,” Bittner said. 

Now, it will. The film’s five-day run at Kiggins Theatre begins Friday night and runs through Tuesday. See the the Kiggins’ website for showtimes and prices: https://www.kigginstheatre.com/

Bittner, who lives in California, will not be able to attend, but he has made a short video to introduce the film and give a greeting to Clark County audiences. 

“This was a special place for me as a kid. The idea of it playing there now, I love it,” Bittner said.

Judy Irving directed the film, chronicling the relationship between Bittner and a wild flock of parrots living in San Francisco. Bittner also wrote a memoir with a similar name, only with the added subtitle: “A Love Story … with Wings”

The parrots, Bittner said, were recently voted by the city government as the official animal of San Francisco. The film had a lot to do with that, he said.

“The book did well, but it was buried by the film,” he said with a laugh in his voice.

It should be noted that the book and the movie are different. The movie focuses on Bittner’s final year with the parrots. The book details Bittner’s six years with the birds.

Bittner was a musician. After high school, he was performing in Seattle before moving to the Bay Area to try make it as a professional artist.

“It fell apart on me pretty fast. I ended up in the streets of San Francisco, where I remained for quite a while,” Bittner said. “I was homeless for a good while. It was the parrots that brought me out of that.”

Bittner became a caretaker at a property on Telegraph Hill, famous for Coit Tower and other landmarks. It was there he got to know the parrots.

“I was struggling. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I was struggling to find my way,” Bittner said. “I got involved with the parrots and everything changed.”

He was there for years, and the film documents his final year there before the property was to undergo renovations. 

“When I left, there were 60 parrots. They were eating from my hand. I had been studying their behavior,” Bittner said. “They taught me a lot.”
He noted the birds have emotions.

“You can recognize jealousy, anger, playfulness. You could recognize what they were going through,” Bittner said. “There is something universal in the emotions.”

He also learned that there are wild flocks of parrots in a number of urban areas throughout the country, including Portland. 

As far as the film, Bittner said one does not have to be into birds to enjoy the documentary.

“It’s really about relationships and life and death,” Bittner said.

This weekend, it is about the joy of having this movie playing at a very special place. 

Richard Beer, the programmer at Kiggins Theatre, said he showed the film 20 years ago when he was working at Hollywood Theatre in Portland.

He received an anonymous email about the film being remastered, noting that the human subject of the film was from Vancouver and he has “lots and lots of friends.” A couple days later, Beer received an email from Bittner.

It was a win-win for Kiggins, a quality film that also has a local connection.

“The people who have seen it before want to see it again on the big screen, especially now after they restored it,” Beer said.


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