‘Whirlybird’ Review: Chasing a Story, From the Air

According to “Whirlybird,” a documentary directed by Matt Yoka, the sprawling freeways of Los Angeles — and the difficulties they posed for reaching breaking-news events quickly — prompted Zoey Tur, along with Marika Gerard, her wife and partner in journalism at the time, to start reporting from a helicopter. They were stringers, Marika explains, and always needed new videos. Cars didn’t cut it, especially once they became parents. There is harrowing, if retrospectively charming, footage in which their young daughter, Katy Tur, now an MSNBC anchor, assists while she accompanies them on a pursuit.

Once they took to the air, the pair gave a big boost to the news service they ran, and they could also report live. They flew over the intersection of Florence and Normandie filming the beating of the truck driver Reginald Denny, one of the earliest incidents in the 1992 riots. The documentary presents a lengthy account of how they found O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco. Marika says they were the first on the scene.

Drawing on an amazing video stockpile from the 1980s and ’90s, “Whirlybird” is an editing feat. (The news clips and Marika consistently refer to Zoey by the name she was known by during the period recounted, before a gender transition.) The movie also has elements of a psychodrama: Building a family business around adrenaline turns out to be suboptimal for relationships and health. Zoey had a heart attack at 35. Despite the fires, floods and body count, “Whirlybird” plays like one big home movie.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

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