Find a Theater Near You Press Page

Emptying the Skies

Watch Trailer
Watch Trailer

Based on a widely republished New Yorker essay by best-selling novelist Jonathan Franzen, Emptying the Skies exposes the rampant poaching of migratory songbirds in southern Europe. Songbird populations have been drastically declining for several decades, with a number of species facing imminent extinction. This poignant documentary explores the wonder of these tiny globe-trekking marvels, millions of which are unlawfully slaughtered each year for large sums on the black market, and follows the intrepid squad of pan-European bird-lovers waging a secret war against poachers, disrupting illegal trapping to free as many as possible. Embedding the filmmakers with their activist subjects, this year-long undertaking transports viewers right onto the front lines as poachers are confronted at critical migration pinch-points in Cyprus, France and Italy. A moving call to arms, Emptying the Skies chronicles a devastating environmental tragedy and the valiant journey of those risking their lives to stop it.

Reactions, Awards & Festivals

"[W]hile, yes, this documentary is chronicling a problem for the animal kingdom, it’s really a heartening study of humans."

Neil Genzlinger

The New York Times

Critics’ Pick! "Emptying the Skies performs a grand and aching act of love by telling its story with a power that enrages."

Amy Brady

Village Voice

"If you love birds-and who doesn't?-this passionate doc about the danger many of them face is as important as it is heartrending and infuriating."

David Noh

Film Journal International

Makes a searing imprint on the psyche."

Jen Chaney

The Dissolve

"An urgent reminder that immediate action is long past due. It’s going to make you angry. Very, very angry.”

Bruce DeMara

Toronto Star

“Flock to this...will warm your heart and attune your ear not only to the sounds of birds but also to this noble cause."

Glenn Sumi

NOW Magazine

“Beautifully illustrates the complex relationship between modern humanity and wild animals. A tight, thriller-like documentary."

Toronto Film Scene

“It’s The Cove for bird lovers.”

Terry Byrne

DC Metro Theater Arts

Winner! Hamptons Film Festival 2013 - Zelda Penzel “Giving Voice to the Voiceless” Award

DOC NYC 2013 - Official Selection

Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013 - Official Selection

San Francisco Green Film Festival 2013- Official Selection

Honorable Mention - Telluride MountainFilm Festival 2015 - Moving Mountains Prize

Cast & Crew
  • Himself : Jonathan Franzen
  • Himself : Peter Berthold
  • Himself : Sergio Coen Tanugi
  • Himself : David Conlin
  • Director : Douglas Kass
  • Co-Director : Roger Kass
  • Producer : Roger Kass
  • Executive Producers : Jonathan Franzen, Andrea van Beuren
  • Editing : Michael Levine
  • Cinematography : Douglas Kass, Michael Tucker
  • Original Score : Marty Beller
  • Additional Music : Laurie Anderson
Technical Info
  • Production Year : 2013
  • Release Date : April 22, 2015
  • Countries of Production : USA
  • Languages : English
  • Running Time : 78 Minutes
  • Screen Ratio : 1.85:1
  • Sound : Dolby
  • Color : Color
  • Rating : Not Rated
DVD/Blu-Ray Special Features

Destination: Ponza, Italy

Theatrical Trailer