A documentary about the miraculous wonder of hummingbirds makes a Sundance premiere

A still from EVERY LITTLE THING by Sally Aitken, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary
Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Sally Aitken’s latest documentary is a miraculous, astonishing glimpse into the work of Terry Masear at her Los Angeles hummingbird rehab center. After luring the viewer in with incredible footage of hummingbirds in their natural habitat (with phenomenal cinematography work by Ann Prum), Every Little Thing goes deep into themes of resilience and recovery. As she introduces us to the avian characters she’s helped heal, Masear opens up to the viewer about her early life and what drew her to work with birds.

Aitken’s film has a fun editing style, keeping from a more typical documentary format. In the post-screening Q&A, the filmmaker spoke of aiming for a feeling of “fractured memory.” Thus, some generic archival footage, along with photos from Masear’s personal archive, is incorporated into the original material. This makes Every Little Thing more of an emotional work.

We see Masear’s frustration and anger with a negligent rescuer family who further abused a bird instead of bringing it to her earlier. Most of the rescuers we’re introduced to have connected emotionally with the hummingbirds they find and hope Masear can save them. Since she’s been doing this rehabilitation and therapy work for 20 years, she’s less optimistic about possible improvement. This doesn’t mean there aren’t unexpected moments of wonder and miracle in her work with hummingbirds.

Even the viewer grows attached to a couple of the characters we meet — Cactus grabbed my heart — in their journey to recovery. We learn about hummingbird aggression and other facts about the birds, but usually in relation to a larger, overarching theme. In this insular (very large) home Masear has created for herself and the birds in her care, the past creeps in.

The amazing sound work adds to the sense of place in Every Little Thing. The sound team captures the chirps, the flapping of wings, and other noises. The audience feels like we’re in the room or aviary with Masear and the birds. Caitlin Yeo’s score perfectly accompanies the movements of the birds and accentuates the emotional intensity.

Every Little Thing is a quiet marvel. I was a tad skeptical going into the viewing, but there’s an emotional and thematic depth here beyond expectation. Aitken and her team provide a sweet portrait of Masear and the generosity involved with her work saving hummingbirds.

Every Little Thing screened as part of the U.S. Documentary Competition at Sundance.

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