Free Flight


Tentatively titled "Free Flight," this documentary shot in mini DV and super eight chronicles the life of pigeon enthusiasts who race, show, breed, and fly their birds from New York rooftops and suburban backyards.

To many, pigeons are thought to be urban nuisances, akin to rats. However, to a small subculture pigeons are well-loved pets with an uncanny therapeutic power to soothe. Growing up in an urban setting surrounded by high-rises and asphalt, pigeon enthusiasts acquiese freedom from watching their birds fly in the open skies. These owners live vicariously through their birds, gaining a sense of purpose and fascination in being able to momentarily escape the dangers and suffocation of a big city. For most, without this addicting hobby their lives would be wasted on the streets or in jail.

Pigeon enthusiasts are a composition of diverse ages, ethnicities, and genders, yet each posseses the same love and affection for the birds. With over 600 different breeds throughout the world, most of today's society are exposed to the common gray and black pigeons unaffectionately known as the "rats" of the sky. Yet, enthusiasts reveal the fascination of these wildly varied birds. Purposely bred to either be a good "racer," a good "flyer," or a good "showbird," each bird is cared for with the same predilection as one's child. The film reveals an intimate view into pigeon enthusiasts and the stunning dedication and commitment invested in this hobby.

For the "racers," it's more of a business, a sport, then and a hobby. Thousands of dollars in prize money can be won if a certain bird makes it back to his or her owner's coup in the quickest time. Loaded on a special designed truck, these birds are driven 500 miles away and then released simultaneously. Tamper proof clocks and strict regulations assure that no cheating is involved. Hundreds to thousands of dollars might be spent on the purchase of a well-known racing bird to breed it for it's prestigious racing bloodline.

Others breed pigeons so exotic looking, one would never consider it a part of the pigeon family. Throughout the world, much like the Westminster Dog Show, these birds compete for "best in show," status.

The sport and hobby of the pigeon enthusiasts declines more each year as younger generations do not find it as interesting as their fathers or mothers. And as the stores that supply the food and medicine become less available, the hobby and sport are sure to cease all together. Documenting it now and telling their stories is an important project that Joe La Penna has undertaken.