John Greyson documentary channels songbirds, Zoom, to explore Egyptian prison and LGBTQ activism


In March, it was the bewildered beaver in the Royal York TTC station. A few months before that, it was daytime coyote sightings in parks and on city streets.

And now there’s a new COVID-era urban wildlife phenomenon, at least in the imagination of filmmaker John Greyson: songbirds gossiping on a Zoom call.

Greyson’s latest film “International Dawn Chorus Day” will have its North American premiere in the Hot Docs Festival on April 29. The 15-minute-long film takes its title and jumping-off point from the tradition, begun in 1984 in the U.K., of people rising early on the first Sunday of May to listen to birdsong.

As the film starts, we see and hear birds singing in boxes on a familiar Zoom grid. Greyson’s conceit, initially whimsical, is to subtitle their chirps and make them into a conversation — but what they are talking about quickly turns serious.