Editor's note: This film is no longer available online.

If you want to impress your dining companions in Cyprus, it is not caviar that you order, but ambelopoulia: a tiny songbird. But as this film reveals, the cost to bring such delicacies to the table is enormous.

Bestselling novelist Jonathan Franzen takes a break from the world of fiction to guide us through an all too horrifying reality: tens of millions of protected migratory songbirds are illegally killed every year.

Franzen, a longtime bird lover, accompanies young staffers of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter on their expeditions. With police enforcement in Southern Europe practically non-existent, they risk their lives to rescue trapped birds, and confront hostile poachers.


By Douglas Kass

I am attracted to stories with radical characters, and this film features some of the most radical and passionate people I have ever encountered.

As the opening of the film indicates, we are living in a time of the killing off of the animals. Species are being wiped off the planet at an alarming rate, and something needs to be done about it.

In Emptying the skies we look at how migratory songbirds are being senselessly slaughtered in Europe to levels of near extinction, and at a group of individuals who are fed up with it.

To some, their methods might seem radical, the dangers they face might seem crazy, but to me, they are acting with the kind of passion and intensity that is necessary to actually get something done.

Emptying the skies is based on a New Yorker essay by award winning author Jonathan Franzen. While he is best known for his extraordinary works of fiction, I myself have found his essays, his non-fiction, to be equally powerful.

Franzen was an exceptional collaborator on this project and his interview in the film captures the issues and emotions of the story so well that he has been described as a “spiritual narrator.” I thank him for his efforts, input, and perspectives. And I feel blessed to have spent time with such an amazing group of people (and birds) on this film.