Local Current Blog

Sick Birds Die Easy: Music, movies, and psychedelic sawdust

Steve Marsh is one of Minnesota’s most well-travelled writers, as likely to be found on a private jet profiling an international celebrity as catching a local gig in an Icehouse booth. He has a million stories to tell, and he hinted at a few of them in an e-mail he wrote to give us a heads-up about an upcoming film screening. We knew about the film—it’s being presented by Sound Unseen, a cool music/movies series with an annual film festival that the Current helps to present—but the back story was new to us, and we asked Steve if we could pass the story on to you. Here it is, as Steve wrote it:

“Steve Marsh here. I’d like to tell you about a movie that the Trylon Microcinema is screening at 7 and 9 p.m. on Wednesday. It’s called Sick Birds Die Easy and it’s about these guys from Nebraska who go down to Gabon, Africa to eat this psychedelic wood, iboga, in the hopes of finding some kind of enlightenment. (SPOILER ALERT: They don’t. Not really.)

“The director is Nik Fackler, a young guy who started his career making videos for Conor Oberst’s record label and who actually is a Saddle Creek artist himself. His band is called Icky Blossoms. (He’s going to be up here to introduce the movie and to play some music at Icehouse at the afterparty.) Nik is coming up with Ross Brockley, a standup comedian and CSA farmer who’s kind of the star of the film, (Ross is an old friend of mine); and Sam Martin, another Nebraskan musician who’s in the film and who will also be playing the afterparty.

“My relationship to this production is serendipitous and weird. I was working on a book project in Northern France when Ross emailed me saying that if I could get down to Gabon, I could eat iboga in a ceremony just outside of Libreville. I’d been interested in psychedelic tourism for a while now—one of my adventures involved going to Peru to drink ayahuasca with Sims—so I took Ross up on his offer.

“I arrived in Gabon, was immediately introduced to this Keith Richards-looking French shaman cat Tatayo and quickly began a series of strange initiation rites into this religion the Pygmies call Bwiti. Meanwhile these guys from Nebraska were running around across the road trying to shoot this movie about the same thing. So Tatayo and his people would go to work scrubbing up my body and my soul, etc., in a grand lead-up to this iboga ceremony where you eat spoonfuls of psychedelic sawdust that tastes like battery acid and induces you into a kind of psychedelic fugue state for 24 hours. And after rising at dawn getting ritually cleansed and hanging out in camp wearing a grass skirt, painted up like Bob Dylan in the Rolling Thunder Revue, I would take my meals with this ill-tempered film crew. It was a dark scene. Nik was kind of losing it, basically retreating into himself as he realized how daunting it was to shoot a movie in Africa, and Ross and the rest of the guys were becoming increasingly pissed at the general lassitude of the operation. Really terrible morale, from the soundman to the actors.

“This was back in August 2011, and I finally saw the finished film this last fall—and my God, Nik has actually created something that addresses our modern western condition and the psychedelic tourism phenomenon. It’s really funny, and actually sort of profound. It’s created conversation wherever it’s been screened, and it actually won a jury prize at the Polish film festival. I’m still shocked by the fact that it’s any good. It’s really worth seeing. Could you help me get the word out?”

Done and done. Tickets to the screenings are available here.