Sundance Film Review: ‘Whirlybird’ Soars Just As High As Its Subject


2020 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: The history of Los Angeles isn’t in a museum that you visit. No, it sits on thousands of videotapes in a U-haul storage unit. Or, it did until director Matt Yoka and his team came along to convert it for the new documentary ““Whirlybird”.”

Anyone who watched news of any kind in Southern California knows the work of Zoey Tur (formally Bob Tur before transitioning from male to female). Tur was the eyes in the sky for breaking news in the ’90s in Los Angeles. Be it is absolutely remarkable images of the Rodney King riots on the corner of Florence & Normandy in 1992, the capturing of the first-ever live police pursuit, or the chasing of OJ Simpson in the white bronco, Tur and his then-wife were as much a part of the skies over LA as smog in the summer.

What would become 75 terabytes of video are the beginning and ending of the Los Angeles New Bureau. Starting out as a news stringer on the streets of LA Tur and his then-colleague Marika were literally attached at the hip capturing drug raids, murders, and wildfires in the busy city. He with the camera and she capturing audio. Professionally, they would soon add an office, a mother to help manage said office, and a helicopter.  The couple would be soaring above the competition when it came to news coverage. First, as stringers and then to a contracted position first with KCOP and eventually at KCBS.

Tur would revolutionize the way news was covered and reported. His idea to use choppers for coverage would come at the perfectly timed infancy of breaking news. Most today cannot conceive of a time when there were no drones let alone choppers to offer up a different vantage point. Imagine seeing your news covered from the ground only. For newsrooms today you might as well ask them to use typewriters and teleprompters with the actual paper being fed into it! It was Tur and the LA News Bureau that would start to change that we still see in news coverage today. That’s the professional side. Audiences are in the front seat of the most brutal and powerful video captured on video ever, period.

On the home-front (a line that was often incredibly blurred) “Whirlybird” follows Bob and Marika through their courtship on the blood-soaked streets and siren filled nights.

The two would begin dating, eventually, marry and, have 2 children. First daughter Katharine, MSNBC’s Katy Tur and son Jaime.  What first came out of necessity to pay the bills would soon become an adrenaline-packed addiction and evolve into the tearing down of a family. Feeling like a ‘war correspondent at home’ Tur’s aggressiveness would turn to rage and mostly verbal abuse against his then-wife.

Audiences will see Zoey lose patience, respect, and control all while chasing the news. Simultaneously and somewhat ironic that viewers will see the unraveling of Tur in the same way he captures the unhinging of humanity from below. What director Matt Yoka and his team do for storytelling in “Whirlybird” is as perfect as the subject of the film does narrate a story from below.

First rejected at Sundance last year “Whirlybird” would come back for the 2020 slate with a stronger story and timing that would leave Tur and the entire crew shaking their head. “Whirlybird” would make its Sundance Premiere hours after the tragic helicopter plane crash that killed NBA legend, Kobe Bryant. It’s timing Tur talked about at one of the films screenings.

Whirlybird” should be required viewing for anyone desires unparalleled storytelling. Run to see it when it’s acquired and distributed. In fact, take a chopper to see it if you have to, you won’t regret it.

“Whirlybird” is currently awaiting distribution (at time of review published)

GRADE: (★★★★)