“I’m a flower,” Meryl Streep narrates near the beginning of the utterly mesmerizing new Wings of Life documentary by Louie Schwartzberg. “I’m going to tell you, on behalf of all flowers, about life from our point of view. You think we’re just fragile wisps of beauty, unaware that beauty is our strategy.”
The Disneynature feature, out on DVD tomorrow, takes an intimate look at the relationship between flowers and their pollinators — from milkweed fields that draw millions of monarch butterflies to cactus fruits that lure pregnant bats from across the Sea of Cortez.
“It’s a love story really, a love story that feeds the Earth,” says Schwartzberg, whom we interviewed by phone. (He’s the only cinematographer in the world who has been shooting time-lapse 24/7 continuously for over three decades; credits include American Beauty, E.T. and Men in Black.) Schwartzberg says it was the escalating bee crisis that “really motivated me to push hard and make this movie. We’re hoping people will be inspired by the beauty. Beauty is nature’s tool for survival — you protect what you fall in love with.”
The film employs time-lapse, high-speed and macro cinematography. The result is astounding: We see a bee’s anguish as it attempts to escape the trap of a bucket orchid. We see the as-yet-undiscovered ripple in the wings of a monarch in flight. We see the individual quills on a hummingbird’s head as it closes in on a juicy bloom.
So much for the old saw about technology alienating us from nature. Wings of Life brings us closer than we’ve ever been to the fragrant, unseen calculus that is our ecosystem.
“Technology can actually be a gift and an ally in showing us things the human eye can’t see,” Schwartzberg says. “Flowers growing and moving in a way that rivals a ballet dancer, hummingbirds doing amazing pirouettes. Technology opens up our consciousness to that. It makes us better human beings.”
Below are a few shots from the documentary, plus a must-see clip of a hummingbird in action. Hungry for more video? Entertainment Weekly’s Family Room blog has almost seven minutes of breathtaking footage.
(Photo credit: All photos courtesy of Disneynature.)