Film Reviews

As the Crow Flies Review: Coming of age in the clouds

Tess Girard’s visually stunning portrait of youth in flight


As the Crow Flies
(Canada, 96 min.)
Dir. Tess Girard

If it’s been a while since you’ve gazed out of an airplane window, As the Crow Flies will remind what it’s like, taking you soaring beyond the four walls of your holed-up winter isolation. Director Tess Girard captures a visually stunning journey through the clouds piloted by a group of young recruits of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, many not yet 18, as they grapple with being simultaneously placed in the pilot seat of their lives and a massive machine.

Although the premise may not be earth shattering, Girard structures As the Crow Flies in a way that is highly watchable and wraps you up in the intensity of the high-stakes, high-pressure program and its participants’ coming of age. Students trek from classroom to hotel room and back again, their only sense of freedom from the military strictness of the course being the feeling they get when they take to the skies. What is normally a six-to-eight month journey to become a pilot is condensed into a whirlwind seven weeks, which breeds a special closeness among the class. The film often lingers on the female participants and their unflinching determination to succeed, motivated by everything from following in an older sister’s footsteps to making an immigrant mother proud.

Girard captures the key moments of dramatic tension and emotion with an empathetic eye, since she went through the gruelling program at a young age herself. The camera anticipates the precise fall of someone’s face when their instructor sits them down to scold them and reveal a failing grade as well as the flash of awe across their faces as they flip upside down in the sky for the first time. The film takes you as close to the experience of flying as you can get while not being in the cockpit with a score that complements climatic editing and awe-inspiring, atmospheric shots.

Ultimately, As the Crow Flies succeeds because it goes beyond documenting the intricacies of a pilot’s training and speaks to a universal coming of age experience. It is a film ripe with metaphors for life and growing up within the terrifying and exhilarating act of learning to fly. As many do, the teens push past self-doubt and through intensive studies, trusting that they have chosen the right career path and that they are cut out to be pilots. “Do you have control?” the instructor will prompt from beside the student in the cockpit, to which the student is taught to reply, “I have control,” taking the plane, and their lives, into their own hands.

As the Crow Flies is currently streaming for free on NFB.ca.