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Feathered Cocaine

Behind the scenes of one of the strangest documentaries to ever hit the big screen, premiered earlier this month at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam

Feathered Cocaine was arguably one of the more bizarre and intriguing documentaries at this year’s International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam, causing a stir in the US and Canada for its controversial claims about both falcon smuggling and international terrorist networks. The film starts out as a portrait of Alan Parrot, one of the world’s leading falcon trainers, a white American Sikh and former resident falconer for the Shah of Iran. His obsession with and dedication to the birds have led him on an active campaigning mission to stop the global smuggling trade that he feels responsible for starting.

The story then takes a darker turn, exposing the network of terrorist links and information Parrot inadvertently gained access to through his links in the worlds of falconry and smuggling. Dazed sat down with directors Örn Marino Arnarson and Thorkell SHardarson to map out how their innocent quest to make a documentary about falcons led them into this strange and disturbing underworld.

Dazed Digital: What inspired you to make this film?
Thorkell S Hardarson:
Actually, we were going to make a very short documentary on falconry in Iceland in 2005, When we started the research we were really surprised because so many people didn’t want to talk to us, so then we got more interested and dug deeper. If it wasn’t for that resistance we would probably have ended up making a very romantic film.

DD: So does smuggling go on in Iceland?
Thorkell S Hardarson:
We have Jer falcons there – they are the biggest falcons and very sought after by the Arabs. We have annual visits to Iceland from German smugglers who come to steal the eggs, but no one knew why they were doing it or where they were taking them. It was like a hidden world.

DD: How did you meet this extraordinary guy, the lead character of the film?
Thorkell S Hardarson:
We found an article in a Mongolian newspaper about him opposing the smugglers there and we knew we had to get hold of him, but he was like a ghost in the internet. It took us six months to track him down.

DD: Was he open to the idea of the film?
Thorkell S Hardarson:
He was willing to talk, but he didn’t tell us the whole story until we’d been visiting him for at least one and a half years.

DD: Could you relate to his obsessions with the birds?
Thorkell S. Hardarson:
It’s like he said in the film, there’s a saying, ‘One falcon one wife, two falcons no wives.’ He had more than ten falcons when we started shooting this film. It’s like a condition. You are in love with the concept. They see in the bird passion power and purity that they don’t see in humans. But it is a very powerful obsession. We spoke to a lot of people who said some falconers go over the top and choose the falcon over their wives.

DD: He’s not well liked in the falconry community. What were your impressions of him?
Thorkell S. Hardarson:
You meet and him you like him, he’s very charismatic. He’s opposing the traffiking whole-heartedly. He loves the birds and is absolutely fascinated with them. You see the part in the film where he lost a falcon. It was his favourite bird. He had it in his house all the time, it was his best friend, and when he lost it, it was like he lost a child of his own. So he’s very dedicated to what he’s doing.

DD: It’s a crazy story, you were making a film about this falcon trainer, and his mission to prevent smuggling in central Asia, and then he tells you he had access to key information about the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden…
Thorkell S Hardarson:
We always felt there was more to come, we suspected it. Through his contacts he had a way of electronically pinpointing where Bin Laden’s falcons were. To my knowledge that’s the most actionable intelligence and has been around since 1999 to get Bin Laden, via these radio transmitters. In 2004/2005 he got this information out to all the big intelligence agencies, into hands of directors of CIA.

He wasn’t after the money. I’ll admit it, he was wearing a robe and has a long beard and turban dressed as a sikh – I think maybe if he would have shaved dressed in suit, he may have got further – but they didn’t want to speak to him. He’s not the only man who’s been giving info to the US government with no response. Why is that? We are not the CIA so can only speculate as to why. But this film is not a conspiracy theory, it’s based on six years’s worth of research.

DD: There’s some pretty controversial claims in the film. How have people reacted?
Thorkell S Hardarson:
The film was at Tribeca and we had a blog on their website where you could place comments. A lot of people criticised the film without actually having seen it. There was a guy called Dennis Maynes from British Colombia who used to be the president if the British Colombia Falconry Association pouring shit on us. We looked into his background, and at that time he was facing 45 pending charges of breaking wildlife laws in BC. He just got convicted and is now out on probation. It just shows what is still going on.

Text by Rosalind Fowler