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DOC TALK

Birds of a feather; feeding the spirit

Watching ‘Broken Wings’ and ‘We Feed People’

A still from "Broken Wings."Courtesy of Discotheque LLC

Known as the boyhood home of former President Bill Clinton, Hot Springs, Ark., can now boast of another celebrity resident.

Adonis, a black buzzard, lost half a wing in some unknown mishap and can no longer fly. But he has found his way into the hearts, or most of them, of locals and visitors alike. That’s thanks to Jayne, a waitress who finds time between shifts at two restaurants to serve chunks of raw steak (costing up to $100 a week) to the hobbled scavenger who can no longer dine on the freshly squashed armadillos and other roadkill adorning the pavements of this sleepy, down-on-its-luck resort town.

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Jonathan Sutak’s endearing, entertaining, and frequently surprising shaggy-dog (or bird) documentary “Broken Wings” follows the pair whose 10-year relationship some in the film describe as codependent, others as inspirational. Their bond runs the gamut from pathos to absurdity, from tragedy to triumph.

The title hints at the striking parallels between the lives of the buzzard and the eccentric woman who saved him. Both are broken and marginalized, both came from nurturing families but fate dealt them blows that forced them to adapt.

Jayne relates how she was the only girl in her family and would follow her brothers when they went duck hunting. She’d rescue the wounded birds they shot and try to nurse them back to health. This compassion for animals stirred her to study to become a veterinarian, an ambition her parents encouraged. But she dropped out of the program because, in her own words, she “wasn’t very smart.”

She worked with psychiatric patients until a tragic event made her consider changing professions. So she started waiting tables, which was, she says, “less traumatic than dealing with matters of life or death.” But she couldn’t escape personal trauma. A self-described party girl, she rode home one night in 2004 in a car driven by an inebriated co-worker and in a collision suffered a horrific compound fracture. Her mother took her to Hot Springs to rehabilitate by drinking the town’s healing mineral waters, and there she has lived ever since.

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Some of her friends suspect that this experience drew her to the similarly afflicted Adonis. Or maybe it was Adonis’s close bond with his family. In one of the film’s many bizarrely beautiful moments, Adonis greets his parents who return to the same nesting site every year with a joyous dance. He then helps tend to a new brood of siblings until the eggs have hatched, the feathers are fledged, and they all fly away, leaving him behind again.

It’s a pretty good life for a grounded bird, until someone shoots an owl in the woods where he lives and, terrified, he flees to the lush grounds of a condo complex. The residents there aren’t sure what to make of the newcomer, especially after he reduces to shreds a giant inflated pink flamingo the kids left by the pool and that Adonis perceived as a rival.

Sutak packs a lot into the film’s 67 minutes, but the stories unfold with laidback grace, offering nuanced insights, gentle irony, telling detail, and acute juxtapositions that celebrate the uncommon grace of common people — and a one-winged bird.

“Broken Wings” can be streamed on the PBS video app.

Go to www.pbs.org/video/broken-wings-vulture-survives-also-inspires-0up52i.

José Andrés, the subject of “We Feed People,” stirs a pot of food in San Juan.National Geographic

Comforting the afflicted

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If you missed “We Feed People” — Ron Howard’s immersive, whirlwind profile of chef José Andrés and his nonprofit World Central Kitchen — when it screened last month at the Independent Film Festival Boston, be sure to catch it when it begins streaming this week on Disney+. Since that last outing, Andrés’s extraordinary NGO has brought food and succor to war-ravaged communities in Ukraine after the Russian invasion in February and closer to home in Buffalo following the recent racist massacre at a supermarket there.

Howard’s documentary takes Andrés back to when he first felt compelled to bring his culinary magic to help soothe scenes of mass suffering. Already a media celebrity and founder of a chain of acclaimed gourmet restaurants, the ebullient gastronome watched in anguish and horror the news reports of devastation and death in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands. He knew he had to do something — and what he knew how to do best was feed people. So he took the next flight out, opened up his kitchen, and has not stopped since.

His work is not without risks — indeed, the kitchen he opened in Kharkiv, one of 30 in Ukraine, had been taken out in April by a Russian missile, wounding four staffers. A less fraught but still dicey situation opens the film as Andrés and his crew are driving out to bring food to people in Wilmington, N.C., stranded by Hurricane Florence in 2018. The truck capsizes on a flooded road. The meals are lost, but Andrés and his helpers are rescued. Undaunted, they plan to set out again.

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As a chef, he explains, he is used to mishaps in the kitchen and other disruptions, so he knows how to adapt quickly to the unexpected. He has extended that skill to some of the worst disasters of the past dozen years — those covered in the film include Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017, Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas in 2019, and the devastating 2020 COVID-19 outbreak in Arizona’s Navajo Nation.

Not that Howard shies away from the fiery humanitarian’s flaws — Andrés’s dedication comes at the expense of time spent with his family, and his intensity can sometimes explode in anger as it does in one startling confrontation with a well-intentioned but thoughtless volunteer. He’s no saint, but for the countless hungry souls he has brought solace to, he’s better than that — he’s an angel.

“We Feed People” can be streamed beginning May 27 on Disney+.

Go to films.nationalgeographic.com/we-feed-people.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.