Filmmaker Q&A: Sara Poisson

“Bird Island: The Story of Isla Rasa” is a documentary about a tiny island in the Gulf of California, Mexico.  At approximately one-quarter square mile, Isla Rasa is exceptionally flat and arid, yet it is the hub of survival for two species of seabirds.  Almost all of the Heermann’s gulls (Larus heermanni) and elegant terns (Sterna elegans) in the world go there to breed each spring. For three months, the entire island is covered in a spectacular display of bids engaged in the timeless rituals of reproduction.  This 38-minute film is a classic nature documentary. It chronicles the birds’ harrowing tale of survival on this seemingly inhospitable speck of land. Interwoven into the story of the gulls and terns is the island’s history and the success of its conservation. What was your inspiration for creating the film? As naturalists on board Lindblad Expedition’s ships in the Gulf of California, we visited this amazing island on a number of occasions. Spending only a few hours during each visit, we were curious to witness these birds’ entire 3-month life cycle on the island. Fortunately, scientists who conduct annual research on the birds occupy the island during this time. We then signed up as research assistants and thus gained not only access to these animals during their entire breeding season, but we were provided with food, water and shelter to sustain our existence for that length of time. Our main goal was simply to complete our first wildlife documentary. The awards that it has received at various festivals has exceeded our expectations for the film.

What was the most challenging part of creating the film? The most challenging part of creating the film was in editing over 40 hours of footage down to a 40-minute program. It took time and patience, but after organizing each of the clips it was exciting to put the story together.

What do you want to impart on your film’s viewers? This documentary is part of a larger package in which workbooks accompanying the film are to be distributed to schools in Mexico. We intend for this film to engage and to teach locals and school-aged children, in particular, about the complexity of the ecosystems in which they live, as well as, invoke pride in being a part of rich and healthy natural environments. Ultimately, we wish to facilitate their involvement in local conservation programs as a result of watching our documentaries and participating in our school programs.

What was the most enjoyable part of creating the film? The most enjoyable part in making the film was being on the island for nearly 3 months. Getting up early every day to immerse our selves in the lives of wild animals and discovering the drama of life on the island.

Who (or what) is your inspiration? Nature itself and a wish to preserve wild places was our inspiration to make this film.  Our combined 13 years of experience in the Gulf of California has solidified our desire to help maintain the health, productivity and resiliency of this extremely productive sea and its surroundings. We believe that this documentary may inspire people to take an interest in the flora and fauna of the Gulf of California and, more importantly, to learn to value its preservation.

How or why did you begin creating ocean-focused films? As naturalists, we gain our livelihood by showing people on board Lindblad Expedition’s vessels the wonders of the ocean and its surroundings. It was only natural for us to make a documentary about one of our favorite places in the world, the Midriff Islands of the Gulf of California.

Why did you choose to submit your film to the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival? We decided to submit our film to the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival because as a Bay Area native, I wanted an opportunity for my family to see the film on the big screen.

Is this your first time participating in an ocean-focused film festival? This is our first time participating in the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival. This is also our first time participating in an ocean-based film festival, however we have participated in numerous wildlife film festivals.