A Poetic New Movie Follows Two Devoted Brothers Saving Delhi’s Black Kites


Again in 2017, an Audubon journal story launched readers to Mohammed Saud and Nadeem Shahzad, brothers in Delhi, India, who’ve devoted their lives to rehabilitating wounded raptors. Now a brand new documentary movie, All That Breathes, is garnering vital popularity of its research of the brothers, the Black Kites they rescue (with assist from their endearing mentee Salik Rehman), and the advanced interconnections between people and animals in one of many world’s most populous cities.

As its title suggests, Shaunak Sen’s movie, now in theaters and streaming subsequent yr on HBO Max, is about far more than Black Kites, a species that thrives in Delhi largely by scavenging trash. It’s additionally involved with environmental degradation in a metropolis the place the air is so polluted that respiratory it prompted an estimated 54,000 untimely deaths in 2020 and the place its “sheer opacity,” per the film’s web site, “ensures that larger birds, particularly raptors, frequently collide into buildings or get entangled in wires.” And looming behind Sen’s lyrical pictures of this city surroundings is a wave of horrific sectarian violence in opposition to Muslims just like the movie’s heroes.

Most immediately, although, All That Breathes—the primary movie to win greatest documentary at each the Sundance and Cannes festivals—is concerning the brothers’ refusal to disregard the struggling of the ample however susceptible Black Kites. Audubon spoke with Sen concerning the movie and its topics’ extraordinary dedication to their avian neighbors.

Audubon: How did you first meet the brothers?

Sen: While you reside in a metropolis like Delhi, the air type of has a heavy, opaque, omnipresent high quality. It’s such as you’re surrounded by this sort of grey lamina that’s consistently coating your life. And also you’re very acutely aware of inhaling noxious fumes, and the sky is like this grey monochromatic expanse with tiny dots—Black Kites. So, basically what occurred is that I needed to do one thing concerning the triangulation of individuals, birds, and air. I feel if I needed to pinpoint a second of what led me to assembly the brothers, I used to be caught in a visitors jam and searching up on the lazy dots within the sky which can be the Black Kites. After noticing that one in all them type of appeared to plummet, I used to be gripped by the determine of a chicken that falls out of the Delhi sky. I quickly began researching what occurs to birds that fall out of the sky, and that’s after I first met the brothers. And the minute you stroll into their very darkish and derelict tiny basement with these very industrial heavy metal-cutting machines on one facet and these magisterial birds on the opposite, it’s very thematically dramatic.

Audubon: And also you simply knew immediately they might be the principle focus of your movie?

Sen: The movie took us three years, however when you begin a movie it’s like leaping off a cliff, proper? It’s a free fall. And I used to be simply very taken by the brothers and their type of hypnotic, ravenous relationship with Black Kites. I used to be studying a variety of literature that featured birds as metaphors—you recognize, books like The Peregrine, or H Is for Hawk, or Grief Is the Factor With Feathers—and a variety of books that work with avian cultures and use them as poetic, lyrical references. For the brothers, the kite emerges as a type of otherworldly, wondrous, magical being. I used to be very drawn to that perspective.

Audubon: Are you able to discuss the way in which Black Kites match into this city ecosystem or the function they play in Delhi in its tradition?

Sen: It’s very attention-grabbing to me that it’s not a conservation disaster as a result of the Black Kite could be very profitable. And I feel Delhi has the densest inhabitants of Black Kites on the earth. The Black Kite could be very central to the town’s metabolism. The movie talks about this monumental landfill that’s within the metropolis and the Black Kites are, in a approach, a part of the microbiota of the town. If the town is type of like a abdomen, they’re completely essential to the metabolism of it as a result of they dispense of the trash. They take care of the refuse of the town. They’re completely essential to the town’s ecological framework.

AudubonWe’ve written about how these birds might be injured or killed by sharpened strings used for aggressive kite flying within the metropolis. Is that also a major menace to Black Kites or has the general public turn into extra conscious of the hazard for the birds?

Sen: It for positive is a giant menace, and I actually don’t think about that the general public has turn into conscious of it but. On sure days of the yr which can be large for the nation culturally, what occurs is that as they’re flying kites from the terrace, a variety of birds get entangled within the wires, and it’s an actual drawback. The variety of birds that fall are very, very, very large. So it’s completely an issue. With the movie gaining some traction culturally, more and more the issue has been noticed. However no, I do not assume there’s consciousness about it in any respect. It’s extraordinarily, extraordinarily negligible. And the variety of birds which can be falling should not lessening in any respect.

Audubon: What was your greatest problem making this documentary?

Sen: I feel there have been a number of challenges. I feel discovering the grammar to have the ability to communicate concerning the brothers, discovering the grammar of present the multiplicity of animals in a movie, and discovering the grammar to speak about birds creatively and lyrically. Making a nonfiction movie is basically making one thing out of nothing in any respect, and the world isn’t very supportive. It’s emotionally, financially, creatively exhausting, however it’s additionally rewarding—on daily basis.

However what additionally occurred is I misplaced my father very out of the blue in the midst of final yr. And to have the ability to be intuitive and genuine to what was occurring in my life and make it—you recognize, as a result of your individual life is type of the uncooked materials for the movie you’re making. And to make use of it to have the ability to specific the unhappy magnificence of the brothers themselves. They have been actually challenges of texture. However greater than that, simply staying at it. Three years is a very long time, and to be at it consistently takes loads out of you.

Audubon: In comparison with whenever you set out on this venture, did you full the movie with a special sense of what it was about or a special understanding of the connection between individuals and birds?

Sen: Utterly totally different. Initially I assumed possibly the movie was an exploration of care, an exploration of trans-species love between the brothers and the kites. However that’s under no circumstances the way it panned out. All of the stuff concerning the emotional fissures and tensions between the brothers and the turbulent stuff occurring within the streets outdoors socially, you recognize, the truth that the town was on the boil outdoors and all of that—I didn’t anticipate in any respect. A variety of it consistently modified, which is the way it needs to be. Documentaries are a radical embrace of the unscriptedness of life.

Audubon: You talked about the unrest in Delhi. How did that affect filming?

Sen: As a result of issues have been so turbulent, the query was whether or not we included all of that. The brothers themselves should not, frankly, political individuals within the sense that they’re within the politics of people and birds and non-human life, however not a lot the sectarian identity-based politics that the town was at that time erupting with. I didn’t need to eschew it. I feel the concept was that it’s going to be an indirect presence. It’s like wallpaper to their lives. And you’ll consistently tangentially sense the political moderately than flatly confront it. So it leaks via audio. A personality goes to the balcony and also you hear the crowds within the background. It’s probably current in small, minor, indirect methods, however you solely sense that there’s one thing of curiosity that is perhaps brewing. We have been very acutely aware of not making it entrance and middle as a result of it’s not entrance and middle to the lives of the brothers.

Audubon: I seen that there have been a variety of actually uncooked moments with the brothers. They’ve an awesome humorousness. They might be joking round whereas they have been engaged on the birds. How did you get them to heat as much as the digicam?

Sen: Boredom. While you first present up, persons are very acutely aware of the essence that they venture in entrance of the digicam, and the cameras are a really obtrusive, large presence to start with. However boredom is your buddy as a result of when you maintain displaying up and taking pictures on daily basis, after some time, individuals get tired of the digicam, become bored with you. While you get the primary yawn in entrance of the digicam is when you recognize that—you need to get a way of vacancy and the actual, and that solely occurs if persons are not acutely aware of you.

Audubon: What would you say is crucial factor you realized whereas making this movie?

Sen: I feel persistence. It’s very straightforward to be blinkered to what’s occurring within the non-human world. So I feel that type of persistence to stick with the difficulty and watch and get a bigger perspective at size, but additionally the persistence to stick with the venture and maintain at it till you discover a right and genuine kind for it. And that’s very rewarding.

Audubon: There’s a variety of ache and disappointment on this movie, however it additionally appears to have one thing to say concerning the thought of hope, or concerning the means of each individuals and wildlife to adapt to troublesome circumstances. Is that this finally a hopeful work, or is that too straightforward a response to the difficult themes you’re grappling with right here?

Sen: Nicely, I feel there’s two issues about this. What I discover attention-grabbing within the brothers’ perspective is that, after all there’s a type of disappointment and the type of recognition of the inevitability of ecological devastation that we’re on the brink of. It’s like they’ve front-row seats to the apocalypse—birds are actually falling out of the sky into their tiny basement. However having stated that, why I discover the brothers attention-grabbing is that they’ve—hope is possibly too simplistic, and I don’t imply it in a simplistic approach. However there’s a guarded, cautious optimism that they’ve. They’ve a wry resilience, an unsentimental stripe of wry resilience, of simply soldiering on, placing your head down and getting on with it as a result of the birds are falling and anyone must take care, which I’ve actually unbelievable respect for. I feel the world wants extra of those Don Quixotes to do these sorts of micro acts and micro gestures. And these turn into the life rafts for hope.


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