Little Wing: Is Jaan Vari Inspired By a Real Person?

In following teenage Kaitlyn’s adventures within the world of pigeon racing, ‘Little Wing,’ a drama film, swerves into the realm of sporty storytelling and charts a tale about friendships formed in hardships. Jaan Vari, the known elder pigeon racer, unconventionally enters Kaitlyn’s narrative after the latter steals his prized Granger pigeon, lauded for its speedy skills. As a result, a begrudging Jaan finds himself caught in angsty Kaityln’s orbit as the duo form an unlikely bond while they undertake the mission to rescue Granger and bring the pigeon home. Along the way, the older man and young girl end up helping each other in unexpected ways.

Given the film’s focus on pigeon racing as a sport and Jaan Vari’s presence in it as a praised racing pigeon owner, the story naturally incites a curiosity regarding the niche interest. For the same reason, viewers might wonder if Jaan Vari’s occupancy within the pigeon racing realm stems from reality or fiction. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Jaan Vari and Matt Moceri

Much like the film itself, Jaan Vari, Brian Cox’s character in ‘Little Wing,’ possesses nuanced roots in reality. Although the character isn’t anyone’s outright biographical portrait, he is inspired by the actual pigeon racer, Matt Moceri. Outside of pigeon enthusiast circles, Moceri is best recognized through the 2006 New Yorker article by Susan Orlean, titled ‘Little Wing: When homing pigeons leave home,’ which served as the real-life inspiration behind the film. The article details the experiences of Sedona Murphy, a thirteen-year-old girl who participates in local pigeon racing events.

In exploring the pigeon racing sport and the close-knit culture around it, Orlean talked to a few other racers, including Moceri, the Greater Boston Concourse’s race secretary at the time. The man had been involved with pigeons since 1982, raising at least a flock of sixty at any given time. He’s a part of several pigeon clubs, including the Central New England Pigeon Club and Malden Veterans Homing Pigeon Club, with his Harborview Loft serving as the home base for his racing birds.

Furthermore, Moceri is a twice-registered Elite Champion, a monument to his and his pigeons’ skill within the sport. As a result, he also lived in the same Gloucester house in Massachusetts for most of his life to accommodate his pigeons’ persistent habit of returning to the coop on his rooftop that the birds considered their forever home.

Nevertheless, unlike the pigeons, Moceri’s wife, Joan, was less favorable to the idea of spending all her life in Gloucester. Although Moceri partly agreed with his partner and wished to move to Tampa, Florida, to escape Gloucester’s cold winters— especially after his cancer diagnosis— he found it difficult to leave due to his pet pigeons. After all, unlike humans, pigeons are notoriously known for their disclination to move their homes. For the same reason, Moceri held his own reservations against moving, “[But] I can’t do it with the birds,” the man said in Orlean’s article. “They belong to this house.”

Thus, the similarities between Moceri and Cox’s on-screen persona in ‘Little Wing,’ Jaan Vari, remains evident. In fact, Jaan’s basis in Moceri is almost a foregone conclusion, considering the film’s employment of Orlean’s work as a base inspiration for its narrative. Nevertheless, one key distinction remains between the two individuals. Unlike Jaan, Moceri never developed a close friendship with Kaitlyn’s real-life counterpart, Sedona Murphy, born from an outlandish bird theft scheme.

When asked about Murphy, Moceri only shared his recollection of meeting the young pigeon racer once at an auction in a brief interaction. Consequently, while Moceri’s connection with Jaan remains, we can also conclude that the latter’s storyline involving his mentorship of a young pigeon racer is a work of fiction crafted for the film’s benefit. As such, Jaan is rendered a fictitious character with tangible roots in reality through his connections to Matt Moceri.

Read More: Little Wing: Where Was the Coming-of-Age Movie Filmed?