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PBS' Nature to premier film at CSU

November 1, 2011
By Tony Phifer

"My Life as a Turkey" is the compelling story of a man who spent more than a year raising a family of turkeys. The film will premier at CSU.

An actor, who portrays naturalist Joe Hutto, crouches while a turkey roosts on his head. Hutto's year-long adventure raising a family of young birds is the subject of the film. In 20 years as the executive producer of the acclaimed PBS series, Nature, Fred Kaufman has presented stories about creatures great and small from around the globe. Nature has won more than 600 industry awards, including multiple Emmy and Peabody awards, and is one of the most respected series in television.

For Kaufman, though, one story stands out. It is the tale of Joe Hutto, an artist and naturalist who spent more than a year as the full-time parent to a group of young turkeys in Florida’s Flatwoods.

Premier screening Nov. 9 at CSU

Kaufman will be at CSU on Nov. 9 for the premier screening of his film, “My Life as a Turkey,” which is based on true story. The free event, set for 7 p.m. at the Behavioral Sciences Building theater, includes a Q&A with Kaufman following the screening. Seating is limited to 250.

“This is one of the most, if not the most, extraordinary stories we’ve ever done,” Kaufman said. “It was unlike anything I had ever seen or done. Once we started to see footage coming in, it was just magical.

“When I saw this film in the rough-cut stage, I didn’t want it to end. So many people have found this film very compelling. I’m really excited to see people’s reaction to it.”

Kaufman first learned of Hutto and his family of turkeys in the early 1990s while reading a story in The New Yorker. Immediately, he was taken by the story’s dramatic twists and turns.

“I was convinced that it would make really great television,” he said.

From eggs to adults

The challenge was recreating a unique story that took place several years earlier. An actor closely resembling Hutto, who served as a consultant, took on the role of parent. Once a clutch of wild turkey eggs was found, a film crew began documenting the young birds’ lives from prior to hatch to when they reached maturity more than a year later.

Hutto’s character spent the entire time as parent to 16 chicks. He learned their language, served as their protector, took them on foraging trips and even roosted with them. The chicks revealed their survival instincts, intellect and individual personalities.

“We wanted to recreate the events just as they took place,” Kaufman said. “We couldn’t go in and just hope to get what we wanted. The potential for disaster was really quite high, but it worked out just beautifully.”

PBS will air film Nov. 16

The premier event, sponsored by CSU and Rocky Mountain PBS, is a first for Nature and Kaufman, who never before has debuted a film on a college campus. He’s looking forward to an open dialogue about “My Life as a Turkey,” which airs Nov. 16 on PBS.

And, in case you were wondering, the timing of the film’s release – just prior to Thanksgiving – is intentional.

“After they see this film, people will start serving baked fish on Thanksgiving,” Kaufman said with a laugh.

Ram Quest: Your Best Nature Photo

In honor of the free screening, CSU and Rocky Mountain PBS are teaming up on the latest Ram Quest contest. Visit CSU’s Facebook page starting Nov. 3 and look for the Ram Quest tab on the left side of the screen. The first 25 people to submit their best “Nature” photo will win a free CSU t-shirt and Chico bag. Ideas of nature photos could include sunsets/sunrises, mountain scenes, beach fronts, flowers, meadows seasonal shots... anything in nature! It is that easy.