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Sundance 2024 Review: Every Little Thing – “an uplifting, emotional, beautiful film.”

A still from EVERY LITTLE THING by Sally Aitken, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute

I can only hope that director Sally Aitken continues to create documentaries about extraordinary women whom you may not know by name.  In 2021 she hit Sundance with the film Playing With Sharks, the story of Valerie Taylor, a diver who made shark conservation her life’s work.  Now in Every Little Thing, she tells the story of another real life hero, Terry Masear, a remarkable woman who, in the hills above Los Angeles, saves and rehabilitates some of the world’s tiniest patients – hummingbirds.

The months of April to July are peak season in LA, where the native hummingbird population is joined by migratory birds who may journey from Central America or Mexico to as far north as Canada.  Masear, running a hotline for hummingbirds in distress, fields 5,000 calls a year, but is busiest during this season.  Some calls she can talk the finder through, like capturing a hummingbird trapped in a home that thinks a skylight is its route of escape.  However, for others the finders bring the birds – some injured or ill, some abandoned or orphaned nestlings – to Masear’s home.

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She feeds small babies with 22 gauge catheter tips and does rehabilitation on birds with wing injuries.  The hope is to move them through the different stages of rehabilitation to the largest outdoor aviary until they are able to fly away on their own.  It’s delicate and emotional work.  Because, as in nature, it doesn’t always have a good outcome. “If I don’t do everything right, they die,” Masear explains.  Success means watching the birds you’ve grown attached to fly off into the sky, always wondering and worrying about how they’re surviving.  As Masear notes, “The natural world is a combat zone!”

Aitken, who became interested in Masear’s work after reading her book, Fastest Things on Wings, creates wonderful balance between telling the story of this dedicated woman, and also of the birds themselves.  The ‘characters’ of Wasabi, Cactus, Raisin, Sugar Baby and the rebellious, camera loving Jimmy are on full display.  And you can’t help but become completely invested in their journeys.  These resilient little creatures will work their way into your heart, especially seeing them up close and personal as you never have before.

Every Little Thing utilizes the talents of wildlife cinematographer Ann Johnson Prum and ultra high speed frame rates to capture the beauty of these small birds who move their wings more than 50 beats a second.  Watching how they turn and flip as they fly, the way they hover as their small tongues retrieve nectar from flowers, the way they manage vertical flight, fighting against gravity, is nothing short of remarkable.  Working alongside Nathan Barlow and Dan Freene, the team use macro lenses to show the intricate and iridescent quality of their feathers.  It’s a fascinating and magical look at nature and makes Every Little Thing one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen.

With almost twenty years rehabilitating hummingbirds, Terry Masear has heard and seen it all from the finders who call.  Some lie, some call repeatedly for updates, some show immense appreciation for her work.  Humans are variable in their response to the world around them, and she knows that people’s attitude toward one small bird mirrors how they feel about nature in general.  Compassion is what makes everything work.  We are all part of an intricate system, a balance, and Aitken, interspersing her film with stunning photography of flowers blooming, of bees and wasps buzzing, of water droplets falling, brings this world into clear focus.

Those who have read my bio or reviews before might know that in my day job, I am a veterinarian, so I am viewing this with a biased lens.  As such, I found Masear’s rehabilitation work meticulous and fascinating.  Perhaps more than most, though through Aitken’s talented crafting of this film I somehow doubt that.  I was overjoyed at Masear’s successes, and saddened by her losses, so much so that I teared up through many moments of this film and full on ugly cried through the last ten minutes (thank goodness I’m watching at home).  Masear is crafting a tremendous legacy – one of empathy and compassion for the tiniest of lives.  All life is precious, and I truly fell in love with these charming creatures.

Every Little Thing is an uplifting, emotional, beautiful film.  A tribute not only to Masear and her immensely difficult work, but to the hummingbird itself, a delicate little warrior.  I hope you’re still flying high, little Jimmy.

Every Little Thing premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, January 21, 2024.  It is still available for U.S. viewers online through January 28th.  For more information please head to

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