A Review of “Anatomy of Wings” : A Thing of Beauty and a Joy Forever

By Vernon Nickerson

Won’t regret, can’t forget what they did for love. I am besotted by this film, as witness my first thoughts after watching “Anatomy of Wings” for the first time. On the wings of love, they fly like an eagle.

“Anatomy of Wings”, masterfully helmed by educator and director Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander in collaboration with her entire production crew, is an example of what can happen when you are truly seen and heard for 10 years. For Ms. Hollander and her crew at Paul Lawrence Dunbar Middle School in Baltimore Maryland, their collaborative journey of becoming videographers of their individual and collective lives together hinges on a simple invitation to an after-school enrichment program that was supposed to last for a 10 week semester. Instead, the first potential life-changing decision by consensus for the collaborators is to continue into another year. That year segues into a story arc of their lives individually and collectively for what in hindsight will be the decade prominent in the legacy of the 21st century: 2008 to 2018, a time before the masks, social distancing, and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being released in 2021 feels necessary as a year of virtual community has become the socioemotional equivalent of the horror felt in forgetting what a deceased loved one looked and or sounded like. “Anatomy of Wings” is a necessary reminder of Universal truth: sentient human beings coexisting in diversity are always stronger together. We are hard-wired for living in community in response to and or protection from an aggressively hostile current zeitgeist.

That being said, “Anatomy of Wings” is painstakingly candid in showing that life for its team of protagonists is no walk in the park. It was sobering to see how fragile communities are and to see the devastation of the drugs poured into a community, ongoing health disparities/legacy of HIV/ AIDS and STDs. The daily challenge to delay sex and teen pregnancy is met by some and not by others, yet the community endures. For much of the story line, one of the middle schoolers grows up living in Seattle, WA, and occasionally returns to Baltimore. She chooses to remain connected to the project, ultimately using her videography skills to strengthen bonds with the team cross-country, and pay it forward with another generation of city kids via a program aptly named “City Year”.

At the end of the day, unconditional love and positive regard for each other as human beings lives at the center of the “Anatomy of Wings” community. A ‘bonus gift’ in “Anatomy of Wings” is being given entre into the lives of the adults in their official roles as instructors/facilitators. The filmmakers’ and mentors’ story arcs frame the story as they shepherd the ladies through the decade. As a gay POC, I particularly appreciated a transgender person’s transition over time as just another process that occurs in some communities. What will stick with me is how much happier they were at every year of transition. Equally well illustrated by the filmmakers is the resilence of the collaboration-centric support system, a living blend of families of birth and families of choice.

Kirsten D’Andrea Hollander in collaboration has created a magnum opus. It is so appropriate that the film is being released now, after so much terror, drama, and hate. I did not want the story to end. In fact, I want to watch it over and over and over again. “Anatomy of Wings” makes a compelling argument for creative collaboration as absolutely necessary for arts education specifically and pedagogy in general. Commitment, discipline, sacrifice are core motive forces throughout this fine film. Family-centric and uplifting, “Anatomy of Wings” soars like a giant flying gossamer wing or a bush of birds of paradise: a fully alive almost surreal and powerful plant, edgy, sharp lines, blends of bold color, fabulous! Unbowed and clustered for support, but with each flower given space to soar.

There are some words from the Song “Come Alive” that resonate powerfully with the beauty and impact of “Anatomy of Wings”. They nicely summarize this film that I emphatically want the entire plant to witness. You and as many friends and family members as possible must go and see this documentary of ‘becoming’, 10 years in the making. “Anatomy of Wings” screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival with great acclaim. “Anatomy of Wings” will also have screenings at the Milwaukee Film Festival, May 6-20, 2021 to PURCHASE TICKETS and the Maryland Film Festival, May 19-27, 2021 to PURCHASE TICKETS.

“Come Alive”

“When the world becomes a fantasy

And you’re more than you could ever be

‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open

And we know, we can’t go back again

To the world that we were living in

‘Cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open

‘Cause we’re dreaming with our eyes wide open

So come alive (come alive)”*

*Source: Musixmatch – Songwriters: Benj Pasek / Justin Paul – Come Alive lyrics © Pick In A Pinch Music, Breathelike Music, Tcf Music Publishing Inc

Rarely have I seen such a perfectly pitched story of a group of young girls being given wings while being nurtured in a nest and comforted by a tapestry of love, peace, courage, hope, mentoring, discovery, and strength. Strength of heart, soul and mind.Have a watch party as soon as it is is released at a theater or virtual platform near you!

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