‘Whirlybird’ shows a filmmaker swinging for the fences at Sundance | ParkRecord.com
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‘Whirlybird’ shows a filmmaker swinging for the fences at Sundance

Matt Yoka’s documentary “Whirlybird” tells a Los Angeles story, that of a married couple who captured the town’s breaking news from a helicopter during the 1990s.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Whirlybird,” an entry in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition, is set to screen at the following times and locations:

Sunday, Jan. 26, 2:30 p.m., The MARC Theatre

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 9 p.m., Park Avenue Theatre

Thursday, Jan. 30, 9 a.m., Library Center Theatre

Friday, Jan. 31, 9 p.m., Redstone Cinema 7

Saturday, Feb. 1, 3:30 p.m., Rose Wagner Center, Salt Lake City

For his first documentary feature, filmmaker Matt Yoka had two-pronged criteria: that the film tell a Los Angeles story and that it be visual. Although living in New York City when the notion occurred, the draw of L.A., his hometown, played a muse that continually hovered over his aesthetic.

Speaking to The Park Record from an underground parking stall near Little Italy in downtown L.A., and on the cusp of his first Sundance Film Festival, Yoka unveiled the story of “Whirlybird.” Screening in the U.S. Documentary Competition, “Whirlybird” weaves the ever-evolving tale of the “Breaking News” idiom in 1990s L.A. and the inherent pressures it put on the married TV helicopter news team that lived at its center.

Serendipity entered the picture early for Yoka. Upon hearing the couple’s story and first approaching Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur (known as Bob at the time) as the possible subjects of his film, Yoka was astounded by the archival footage available in their personal collection. This was the era of both the O.J. Simpson slow-speed chase and the Rodney King riots of 1992.

With adrenaline driving the narrative from both the air and the ground, the never-ending breaking news cycle and the competition to capture its most intriguing visual aspects for L.A.’s prime-time news make for a riveting storyline. Keeping up with the footage and adapting its effects upon the family and the city is at the heart of Yoka’s film.

The overhead archival camera shots of L.A. in both panorama and close up, coupled with head-shot interviews and candid family footage shot specifically for the film, provided him a palette sufficient to cinematically carve out both his criteria. He would indeed have an L.A. story with enough visual to drop jaws.

Leading with the personal story allowed the City of Angels to gain entrée on its own terms, both geographically and within the breaking-news landscape. Surprises befitting such juxtapositions are deftly choreographed rather than telegraphed by Yoka, a beginning filmmaker in pretty much full control of his powers and creative toolbox.

There are also cinematic and psychological parallels drawn between Los Angeles and an early “Burning Man” gathering as Tur flies out to the Black Rock Desert as a way of dealing with growing fires on the home front.

The children are brought in front of Yoka’s lens only once the film tells him they would be essential to the continuity of the storyline. And, to be sure, he was confronted by interesting sidebars at most every turn. Keep your eye on the future creative processes of Matt Yoka. He certainly came out of the gate swinging for the fences.


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