Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | February 1st, 2024
Every Little Thing (Sally Aitken, 2024) 4 out of 5 stars*
“All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.”
I may have long ago left my Episcopalian childhood behind, but the opening lines of Cecil Frances Alexander’s delightful, well-known hymn have always stuck with me, and not only because of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small book series. They ring in my brain once again, thanks to Sally Aitken’s lovely and moving new documentary Every Little Thing.
Aitken (Getting Frank Gehry) follows Terry Masear—author of Fastest Things on Wings: Rescuing Hummingbirds in Hollywood—who spends her days rescuing and rehabilitating hummingbirds. These tiny birds, beautiful to behold, come to her most often from area folks who call her hotline, having found orphaned chicks or injured adults in their yards. Some will survive, while others won’t. You need a strong heart to withstand the pain of the latter.
On the other hand, the joy in watching the successful rescues is powerful, even as the journey to health proves harrowing. Masear is a gentle soul, helping us navigate the highs and lows of her work. Which is good, because it is hard to see the struggles of these delicate creatures.
The stunning visuals of their hovering flights, frequently captured in slo-mo (at differing frame rates), makes of Every Little Thing (the title of which appears to come from the lyrics to Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds,” playing under the end credits) a celebration of life in all its glory, however short it may be. I remain amazed at the ability of hummingbirds to flap their wings at such high speeds that they can appear to stay still in midair. Stunning does not come close to describing the sensation.
We also learn a bit about Masear’s life. A widow, she was married for 32 years to her husband, Frank, with whom she seems to have shared many adventures of the mind and body. She had a difficult childhood, which may explain why she is so concerned about protecting those at risk. Now, in her house surrounded by the woods of the Hollywood Hills, she passes the time making sure her diminutive patients have a chance to fulfill their avian destiny.
A number of factors contribute to the hummingbirds’ death and injury: among them cats, weather, and people. Sometimes the would-be rescuers do more harm than good as they attempt care without any sort of knowledge base. But as soon as the birds arrive at Terry’s, at least they have a chance. And should they heal and grow, then off they fly back into the wilderness. Like most of the movie, their final flight away is a wonder.
[Every Little Thing just premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition.]
*Starting in 2024, all Film Festival Today reviews will now be rated out of 5 stars, rather than the previous 4-star system