Feathers of Fire The Movie: A Review
Feathers of Fire the stage production debuted theatrically at BAM in 2016 and was presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the same year. Produced, conceived, and directed by artist Hamid Rahmanian it has since gone on to play some one hundred and twelve performances for a global audience of over one hundred thousand spectators. It has also won the UNIMA/USA award for excellence in live performance and design.
Fictionville Studio has now released Feathers of Fire: The Movie a cinema version of this live animation shadow play for all ages. The original stage production is the most elaborate shadow theater experience ever created. The live experience is so much like watching a movie that audiences quickly become unaware that they are watching a stage show. This recording of an actual live theatrical performance transforms the experience into a cinematic wonder and it’s now a video-on-demand production available on Vimeo.
The film opens with time lapsed footage of some of audiences that have seen the live production as they take their seats in one of the many theaters worldwide that Feathers of Fire has played. We also see glimpses of the complex backstage staging that it takes to make this large-scale rear projection shadow puppet performance come to life. Eight actors and puppeteers manipulate one hundred and sixty puppets against one hundred and thirty-seven animated backgrounds that exist in both physical and digital form. Eleven hundred and sixty-three audio and visual cues map out the one hour and fifteen minute live cinematic experience using dual synched projectors to merge the animations. Feathers of Fire: The Movie is nothing short of epic visual wizardry.
To the theatre or puppetry arts purists the marriage of live craft and recorded projection runs the risk of diminishing one from the other. This is akin to magicians who perform on television. The illusion is the same but a bit of the magic is lost. The trick is still effective but the wonder of the moment is lost on the viewer because the possibility exists that what they’re seeing is not genuine. A live audience viewing Feathers of Fire is always aware of the puppeteers performing this miraculous ballet but a home viewer might not fully grasp the intricacies in the moment and just assume that everything they’re seeing is digital or hand drawn animation. Thankfully at the end of the film version the viewer is once again reminded of the truth when the screen is lifted to reveal the production's backstage machinations.
The story of Feathers of Fire is adapted from the epic long form poem Shahnameh: the Persian Book of Kings. Aspects of the story are reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, Rapunzel, and Jungle Book. It tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers of old Persia. One is an outcast boy brought up by a bird-goddess who then grows up to become a wise ruler. The other lover is a young princess who is the granddaughter of a dreaded king. Their impetuous romance survives many precarious adventures. There are grand and perilous journeys, monsters in pursuit, and tests of faith and resolve. Feathers of Fire: The Movie brings the story to life yet again and it is a beautiful production. It is glorious in concept and execution. The colors are deep and rich. The backgrounds are exquisite. It’s unique look and feel has once again elevated an ancient art form into a modern wonder. It is well worth a second visit, or a first viewing, for both children and adults.
Edward Medina is an active member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA), where he serves on both the Membership and Diversity & Inclusion Committees. He is also a voting member of The Drama Desk. Edward welcomes comments at EdwardMedinaAuthor@gmail.com.
Feathers of Fire: The Movie is available on demand through Vimeo.