The Ordinary Extraordinary Junco

by Teresa Lynch

Before he and his family move to Baton Rouge this January, MS student Steve Burns’ documentary project The Ordinary Extraordinary Junco will be shown in its entirety at the IU Cinema. The screening will begin at 6:30pm on December 11th and will be followed by a reception at the Wonderlab Children’s Museum. There is no charge for entry; however, you do need a ticket. Tickets are available at the cinema box office.

The project features the Junco, a common songbird in North American. What makes the Junco special, however, is that it evolves rapidly to adapt to a locale.  We thereby have a bird with great evolutionary variations across locales.

The project was three years in the making and took Steve to remarkable locations such as Mountain Lake in Virginia, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Grand Tetons, and the Guatemalan Highlands to shoot 170 hours of video. Shooting also required some grueling treks such as a seven-hour climb up a dry mountain on Baja and twenty-four hours of travel with the Mexican Navy to make it to Guadalupe Island.

The project kept Steve busy in various capacities such as co-writer, cinematographer, and editor, in addition to handling the entirety of the field shooting. Furthermore, he wrote and directed a re-enactment segment of the project featuring Telecom’s own Steve Krahnke portraying the 1920’s ornithologist William Rowan. IU alum Joseph Toth handled the lighting and camera work for the historical segment.

The project grew out of Steve’s work with Dr. Ellen Ketterson, Distinguished Professor of Biology and Gender Studies,  and Dr. Jonathan Atwell, Postdoc in The Ketterson Lab of the IU Department of Biology.  The Ketterson lab has been studying Juncos for nearly 40 years with this most recent project being supported by the National Science Foundation.

Ultimately Steve says that “the project will be broken up into segments for viewing on the Internet.” The plan is to re-launch the website with video clips from Steve’s documentary at the same time as the premiere. Essentially, Steve says “the videos are intended for bird lovers and high school or college level classrooms.”

“We’re encouraging people to come see it,” says Steve, obviously excited to see the results of the massive team effort the project required.

For more information on the project, visit Steve’s website or the project website.

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