Directed by Annie Kaempfer
Rodney Stotts is one of only a handful of African American falconers in the country, and a local celebrity of sorts. He’s also a former drug dealer, inmate, single father, drive-by-shooting victim, and survivor of the crack epidemic in Southeast, Washington DC- the most dangerous neighborhood in what was then the murder capital of the U.S. A self-proclaimed animal junkie, Rodney has relied on the healing power of nature throughout his life. In this intimate portrait, we join him over four years as he shares his passion for falconry and raptor rehabilitation.
The Falconer is a story of second chances: for injured birds of prey, for an abandoned plot of land, for members of a stressed community, and for Rodney himself.
Dotted with abandoned buildings and towering trees, the former juvenile prison complex of Oak Hill is full of potential. Intent on transforming this run-down place into a bird sanctuary and education center, Rodney moves out of his house and into a tiny trailer placed amid Oak Hill’s crumbling barns and sheds. He envisions a day when this land will be beautiful and flourishing as a result of his efforts. But as we see Rodney, a small figure against a vast sea of green, pushing a sputtering mower back and forth through waist-high weeds, we can only hope against hope that it will not all be in vain.
Rodney sees a refuge for the animals he loves and a thriving center for the people in his community, which has so often borne the brunt of the city, and the nation’s, poor environmental choices. Without money, he builds aviaries with donated wood. Without staff, he calls on family, friends, and volunteers to help him get the property ready for visitors. National Guard cadets donate their community service hours to the project.
Raptors are Rodney’s passion, but he knows that falconry is not the sole escape from the life of poverty, violence and mass incarceration awaiting young people from his community. Rodney collaborates with his family and friends to bring the children and families visiting Oak Hill an all-around outdoor experience – one that includes raptor education, equestrian practice, gardening skills, and lessons in healthy eating. Rodney’s energy and passion are awe-inspiring, and his personal stakes depicted in The Falconer are high. In The Falconer, the stark circumstances facing the citizens of our nation’s capital bring home the issue of environmental injustice. Rodney’s mission is to break through to those too often dismissed as “hard to reach
These efforts are all in service to one simple but powerful idea – Everyone deserves access to nature.