Sundance 2020: Whirlybird

A still from Whirlybird by Matt Yoka, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Whirlybird documents a pair of news reporters in turmoil while soaring high above the ground and taking in the sights of Los Angeles.

When it comes to Zoey Tur, there is life pre-transition and post-transition.  The large bulk of her news career took place before transition.  I can resonate with what she went through in life because I was also assigned the wrong body at birth.  Hell, we can see it all happening before our eyes by way of the archival video footage.  Zoey Tur was becoming someone she hated.  She reached a point in which she no longer recognized herself in the mirror.  While the film does use her deadname and features interviews in which the he/him pronouns are used, I won’t be using those out of respect to Zoey.

Zoey Tur and Marika Gerra were among the people on scene during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.  One could say that their news footage went viral in a pre-digital world.  Imagine living a life before YouTube.  A few years later, they would play witness to the infamous white Bronco chase with O.J. Simpson.  Without a doubt, the footage highlights some of the biggest moments of their career.  The news industry would also evolve in time because of their efforts.

Matt Yoka beautifully weaves in archival footage with contemporary interviews.  One can look at Whirlybird as a time capsule.  The film captures around 40 years or so in the industry.  When it comes to the news business, it’s about being in the right place at the right time.  But what happens in the moments leading up to it?  This film shows exactly that but nobody said it would be pretty.

The archival footage can get pretty nasty in terms of how Zoey treated Marika in the helicopter.  Thousands of hours in the air would go on to take a toll in their relationship.  One can look at this as being the abused becomes the abuser.  We learn the source of this rage while watching the film.  Zoey was abused as a child and abuse has a way of following you through life.  It’s a big source of regret for Zoey.  The fact that she understands all of this shows her growth as a person.  Everything changed when Zoey went to Burning Man.  This is where she also met her first transgender person and started to unlock her own transness.

The film is able to show how transition can change a person.  Living an authentic life means no longer having to hide under a mask.  The rage and hating what you’ve become isn’t there after transitioning.  What remains is regret.

Whirlybird serves as a documentary of LA over the years but it’s about Zoey Tur and Marika Gerrard’s relationship at its core.

DIRECTOR:  Matt Yoka
FEATURING:  Zoey Tur, Marika Gerrard, Katy Tur, James Tur, Lawrence Welk III

Whirlybird holds its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.