By Parker Flickinger
When I was a kid, I had the privilege of visiting the flagship Patagonia Store in Ventura, California. Besides the impressive apparel and outdoor sporting goods for sale, something that made an impression on my family and me was Patagonia's support of the local non-profit, Ojai Raptor Center. They were also selling T-shirts featuring the Raptor Center’s logo as a donation to the Center. I discovered that Patagonia has a long affiliation with falconry, as its founder Yvon Chouninard’s early outdoor experiences were with the Southern California Falconry Club. With that in mind, it is no surprise that Patagonia commissioned the falconry documentary Game Hawker.
The main focus of the documentary is master falconer Shawn Hayes: an African American man living in the Eastern Sierra region of California. Through the film, we are given an intimate portrait of why Shawn chose to pursue falconry, as well as what his life as a falconer entails. All of this is shown at Shawn’s home in the Eastern Sierra. It is here where the film’s cinematography truly shines, offering us amazing footage of the raptors’ powerful flight over the majestic Sierra wilderness.
Shawn’s personal challenges with falconry in the U.S. are also addressed. As an African American man, he has often faced discrimination from the American falconry community and society as a whole. However, by using his skill and passion for the art form, Shawn was able to sustain himself as a falconer domestically. By using his ingenuity, Shawn connected with European falconers and earned acclaim in their community.
The film does not just focus on Shawn’s personal journey but gives a brief history of falconry and its role in society. We travel from the origins of falconry in the Middle East to the impressive contributions to bird conservation that falconers made in the latter half of the twentieth century. The film shares both local and international examples from the Peregrine eyries of California to a falconry festival in Budapest, Hungary.
Game Hawker is a versatile documentary, chronicling both a man's personal journey with nature and the legacy falconry has given the world. It is one of the best nature documentaries I have viewed. I am honored Patagonia has given Lahontan Audubon Society the opportunity to screen Game Hawker within our community. I hope Game Hawker continues to be shared by non-profits so that more people can learn to appreciate the beauty and wisdom of raptors.
Game Hawker is available for anyone to watch for free on YouTube via this link: https://youtu.be/hfCaLMGmSxQ
Due to newsletter deadlines, my review of Game Hawker was written before our screening took place at Patagonia. After the film finished, Shawn Hayes gave his Q&A panel. Hearing Shawn in person, you could truly feel his passion for falconry, even more so than the film. Shawn displayed his breadth of knowledge on the birds, their behavior and physiology. When a little boy asked the simple question “How do birds fly?,” Shawn took this as an opportunity to explain the mechanics of falcons catching their prey and demonstrated their anatomy from one of our taxidermy mounts.
Shawn explained more about his origins as a falconer. When he was a kid, he started off falconry with an old leather glove from his garage to hold the birds. He used old jingle bells from his Christmas decorations as bird bands. During these humble beginnings, his grandfather played an active role, encouraging Shawn to learn more about falconry and use every opportunity to further his artistry in the field.
I was surprised to hear Shawn discuss how some birders and falconers have a history of not getting along, mainly due to their conflicting views on whether or not to become directly involved with the birds. I was surprised to learn this, especially after hearing the documentary describe falconers' roles in restoring raptors.
Shawn expressed his gratitude for our chapter’s promotion of the screening and his career. I can honestly say that my fellow staff and I were equally grateful to host Shawn. We are all in favor of bridging the gaps between diverse groups within the bird-loving community. Celebrating our mutual yet diverse passion for birds is a worthy idea which I hope both Shawn, Patagonia and our Chapter can continue to share in the future!