Whirlybird: Live Above LA

Photograph: BBC/Los Angeles News Service
Rating 7.9
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 1 x 90 mins

Coming to you live from above Must Towers, we’re getting reports of a fascinating story about the flying journalist duo, Marika Gerrard and Zoey Tur.

We’re going back to the 90s in Whirlybird: Live Above LA, and following the eye in the sky as it hovers above the city of angels, chasing the latest news stories. In the pilot’s seat sits Bob Tur – who after coming out as transgender in 2013 now goes by Zoey – and her wife Marika. The pair are known for revolutionising breaking news stories by reporting the action live from their helicopter – you know those famous shots of OJ fleeing in the Ford Bronco? That was shot by these two.

And with this story alone, a fascinating documentary could have been made, but Whirlybird: Live Above LA isn’t just telling one story. The 90-minute film also documents Tur’s struggles with gender dysphoria – behind that charismatic, conventionally handsome public figure was a person struggling with identity. The adrenaline fuelled hunts for the next breaking news story were an attempted distraction from inner turmoil, but they also triggered rage in Tur, resulting in the journalist lashing out at Gerrard, both verbally and psychically.

The pair are both interviewed for the film, and Zoey is open in admitting her past failures, explaining how the constant suppression of her desire to live life as a woman caused huge amounts of pain and frustration. And this frankness is what makes this film so astonishing – the family portrait painted by the documentary is a fractured one, and it’s clear that they are still struggling to make peace with the difficulties they have endured. A fascinating Must see.

And the press is with us. The Times’s Carol Midgley says “there has never been a documentary like it and there almost certainly won’t be again,” giving it five stars, whilst Anita Singh in The Telegraph says the documentary: “made great use of footage from the couple’s archive. What those recordings also captured in broadcast quality was Bob’s increasingly toxic behaviour: his aggression towards Marika (who emerged from this with great credit) and everyone else around him.”

The Guardian’s Lucy Mangan notes, “We are left to wonder, infer and question how much life with (and as) an extraordinary, deeply attractive, deeply flawed person has cost them all; how much the modern emphasis on live, dramatic footage has cost or benefited the culture and much else besides… To be left in such an open, questioning, questing state is the sign of a fine documentary.”

First shown February 2021.

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