If you’ve lived in Massachusetts for an extended time, you’ve got a turkey tale to tell. With her new documentary, Turkey Town, Aynsley Floyd, MFA ‘22 chronicles the proliferation of wild turkeys in the Bay State’s urban and suburban areas.
“I think they’re fascinating. I find them hilarious. Just their overconfidence, haughty style of lumbering around the neighborhood acting like they own the place,” said Floyd.
But after talking turkey with people, she was surprised that not everyone shares her enthusiasm about them.
“Some people find them hideous, some people find them menacing – sometimes for good reason. They attack people, or you find them in your living room, or read about them in the police blotter,” said Floyd. “I found it interesting that their presence had such a polarizing effect on the community.”
Knowing that social media is flooded with gobblers, hens, jakes, and poults, Floyd decided to crowdsource for video clips. Within a day of setting up a Twitter feed specifically to gather gaggles’ comings and goings, Boston Globe reporter Steve Annear reached out, wanting to write an article about Floyd’s film.
Thanks to the article, Floyd got hundreds of submissions from people reaching out to tell their stories and provide clips. She had expected there to be a 50/50 split of people liking and disliking turkeys.
“The reality, most of the time, is people forgave them, even people who disliked them. They forgave them for their sometimes, combative behavior,” said Floyd. “The general consensus is that people have sympathy for them and believe they’re a natural part of the environment. They were here before us, and have a certain, sort of right to be here again.”
The knowledge she gained from her MFA in Film and Media Art helped her take those clips and turn them into a film. Most of her career was spent as a photojournalist, working with still images.
“My Emerson degree informed my understanding of how to tell stories using video and film as a medium,” said Floyd. “The faculty were incredibly patient with my endless questions, and the students were collaborative and supportive. Going back to school was one of the best decisions of my life, and Emerson gave me the tools to succeed.”
From the plethora of provided footage, Floyd cherrypicked the best demonstrations of turkey behavior and particular information.
“Their aggressive behavior in the spring, that’s something I wanted to cover in the film,” said Floyd.
The article also attracted experts like Wayne Peterson, Mass Audubon’s director of Important Bird Areas Program. Peterson is one of three ornithological experts in the 29-minute film.
There’s a section in the film about general facts about turkeys.
“Turkeys used to be very prevalent in New England and Massachusetts, but because of habitat change and hunting,” said Floyd. “There were no turkeys from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s, for about 100 years. They were brought back intentionally by [Mass Wildlife’s predecessor] when they decided they could successfully repatriate turkeys to Massachusetts.”
A free screening of the film, hosted by Mass Audubon, will be offered at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Tuesday, September 20. A panel discussion with Floyd, Peterson, and two other ornithologists about the movie, and about protecting turkeys and other birds will take place after the screening. GBH also optioned the film and will air it on GBH2, of course, on Thanksgiving Day at 9 pm, and the following day on GBH44 at 1 pm. It will also be available to stream on GBH Passport.
Like Turkey Town, some of Floyd’s prior work, such as The Mountain Dogs, documents the relationship of nature and humans. She is currently working on a documentary about wildlife rehabilitators to show how they donate their time and resources to help common animals such as squirrels, raccoons, and foxes.
“I’m very interested in what drives a person to do that. Again, that storyline demonstrates people’s very different approaches to wildlife and nature, because some people will try to hit a squirrel with their car, less yet get up to bottle feed a squirrel in the middle of the night. There are different ways that people relate to the natural world.”