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Documentary highlights master falconer Rodney Stotts

Rodney Stotts
Master falconer Rodney Stotts holds a Red-tailed Hawk. Photo by Annie Kaempfer

The Falconer, a documentary film about Rodney Stotts, one of only a few African American master falconers in the U.S., debuts this week on public television’s WORLD Channel and on the PBS app. Stotts will also be the guest at two virtual screenings this week in association with Black Birders Week.

The first, hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is scheduled for today, June 1, at 7 p.m. Eastern. The second, hosted by Amplify the Future and Manomet, is slated for Thursday, June 3, at 8 p.m. Eastern.

The film tells how Stotts grew up on the rough streets of Southeast Washington, D.C. As a young person in the 1990s, he was involved in a river cleanup organized by the Earth Conservation Corps, and later the group helped return Bald Eagles to the nation’s capital.

The experience turned Stotts away from selling drugs and toward working with raptors. He trained with master falconer and raptor rehabilitator Suzanne Shoemaker, and he says in the film that when he passed the test to become a licensed falconer, “She was the first one I called.”

The Falconer follows Stotts as he works to convert an abandoned plot of land into a bird sanctuary, where he can rehabilitate injured birds of prey. We see him working with teenagers from a juvenile detention facility and teaching other young kids about handling raptors. As he says, “you never know who’s the next raptor specialist.” In a jaw-dropping scene, Stotts rescues a Bald Eagle that was trapped in a fence atop a high wall. He straps his belt to the fence to keep himself from falling.

It’s worth noting that this film is not for all audiences. It addresses a host of traumas, including murder, sexual assault, racism, and drug use.

“I believe in the power of film to foster a deeper understanding of our fellow man, and to inspire personal commitment to take action on the pressing issues of our day,” says the film’s director, Annie Kaempfer. “Rodney Stotts puts everything he has into trying to make his community a better place. My hope is that after witnessing this struggle firsthand, The Falconer’s audience will aspire to do the same.”

The transformational power of birds

Orietta Estrada and Tykee James, founders of Amplify the Future and co-chairs of the Black & Latinx Birders Scholarship, “Through his work with raptors, Rodney Stotts heals while giving youth pathways to conservation and falconry that would not have otherwise been presented to them. We are delighted to co-host this event with our partner and sponsor Manomet and very glad to support Black Birders Week 2021.”

“We are excited to co-host this film screening with Amplify the Future and to bring attention to the work that Rodney does,” says Nadia Elysse, director of diversity and belonging at Manomet. “Manomet is committed to increasing access to nature and educational programming. Rodney’s story is a great example of how connecting to birds and the world around us can be transformational. I hope that everyone will join us for this important conversation.”

Watch the trailer

View the website for Rodney’s Raptors

Learn more about Black Birders Week 2021

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. You can reach him at [email protected].

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