Up on the Roof

A documentary film about family, community, and pigeons

All along the waterfront and throughout blue collar Brooklyn, pigeon keeping has been an active pastime for centuries, passed down from one group of residents to the next.

Apple Dun, Carneau, Fantail. These are just a few of the many varieties of pigeon that New Yorkers who use the term “rat with wings,” are most likely not familiar with. Most city pigeons are hopeless scavengers, prone to disease and seemingly everywhere. Meanwhile, on the rooftops of every borough, urban flocks of richly colored birds twist and dive through the light air, inspiring awe in all who bother to look up. Is it possible these are the same species of feathered friends? As the men who raise and care for these birds prove through the example of their own lives, anything is possible. Up On The Roof follows several of these devoted pigeon-lovers through the rigors and rewards of this quintessential New York tradition.

Filmmaker JL Aronson began shooting Up on the Roof in 2002 when the south side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn boasted over half a dozen rooftop coops, each amiably competing to catch each other’s birds. Soon after, the evictions started. As the neighborhood was then transitioning from low rent to high-rise, building managers and long-time residents began to complain that pigeon-keeping was no longer a welcome past time in their midst. Between changing attitudes in the culture of the neighborhood and a diminishing interest amongst the younger generation to continue the sport, it seemed that this age-old tradition was on its way out.

Up on the Roof premiered in 2008 at the Rincon International Film Festival. It was subsequently picked up for distribution by IndiePix Films and broadcasted on several Metropolitan-area PBS stations, including Thirteen/WNET.

It is currently available to view through VIMEO.