young man runs. His long strides eat up the ground in
front of him at a furious pace. He’s not a jogger; he’s
not in a track suit; he isn’t running to get fit, but he
is running for his health. He’s being chased. A group of
jocks are after him, but they can’t keep up and soon
Martin “Bird” Johnson reaches the safety of his home. Of
course, safety is a relative term. His pursuers may be
thwarted, but Martin’s grandfather is waiting. He begins
beating the 17 year old with his cane for being out all
night. Life for Bird is not easy. The only time no one
can touch him is when he runs. This is the opening of
writer/director Kelley Baker’s film KICKING BIRD.
Anderson-Priddy) is a kid from the wrong side of the
tracks. His mother is in prison, his father is gone and
his grandfather (Danny Bruno) deals out his idea of good
parenting with blows from his cane. Martin is biding his
time until he graduates (or gets expelled), so he and
his friend Digger (Andrew Ox) can head to L.A. to start a band. That’s Digger’s dream and Martin doesn’t have anything
better to do so it’s his plan too.
Things start to
change when his school’s track coach (Don Alder) sees
Bird out running from the jocks. The jocks are the track
team and coach realizes that with some training, Bird
could become his ticket out of high school track and
into a college coaching job. So the coach becomes
Martin’s friend and convinces him to join the track
team. Martin doesn’t see his manipulative side, even
when his friends try to alert him. What he sees is
something that had never appeared to him before: hope.
Martin starts to wonder if he can make something of
himself by getting a track scholarship.
But can Bird run
fast enough to escape what he perceives to be his
destiny and start a new life, or will his own anger and
lack of confidence leave him trapped, no matter how hard
KICKING BIRD is a
coming of age story that is very real. Martin is a
troubled teen. He’s angry at the world and only wants to
be left alone or hang with his few friends. Many of his
troubles are brought on as much by his own attitude and
anger as by the way the cards seem to be dealt against
him. However, when he starts to see a ray of hope for
his future, he is willing to change and fight for what
he wants rather than accepting what he’s been given.
Baker brings some
surprising depth to characters that at first seem
somewhat one dimensional. For example, Martin’s
grandfather could easily have been left as nothing more
than one of the many sources of Martin’s problems.
Instead we are allowed to see the reasons for his
actions and become more sympathetic to him.
While the basic
elements of KICKING BIRD are nothing new - a down and
out kid tries to find a way to make something better for
himself in the world - Baker doesn’t dwell on
stereotypes. He takes the story in different directions
than one might expect. A true independent film, KICKING
BIRD doesn’t let its limited budget hold it back either.
Baker makes good use of his resources and the technical
skills developed during his career working in
Hollywood to ensure that every dollar is on the screen.
He avoids many of the common mistakes of independent
film such as poor lighting or sound quality. In fact,
one surprisingly good aspect of the film is its
soundtrack. While some low budget films stick to stock
music or just a few synthesized tunes doled out to cover
transitions, Baker went out of his way to find good
music that sets a steady pace for the feature. An
excellent, dramatic, character driven film, KICKING BIRD
proves that while
Hollywood spends tens of millions of dollars releasing remakes
and “safe bet” action films, there are filmmakers out
there who can do what the major studios have forgotten
how to do: tell a good story.
So if you want to
see big stars in retread roles, head to the cinema and
check out the latest celebrity vehicle. If you want to
see a good film, check out Kelley Baker’s KICKING BIRD,
and remember, sometimes you run because it’s the only
thing left to do.