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 way 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 triggered 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 photographs of this city atmosphere is a wave of horrific sectarian violence in opposition to Muslims just like the movie’s heroes.

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

Audubon: How did you first meet the brothers?

Sen: Once you stay in a metropolis like Delhi, the air kind of has a heavy, opaque, omnipresent high quality. It’s such as you’re surrounded by this sort of grey lamina that’s continually coating your life. And also you’re very aware of inhaling noxious fumes, and the sky is like this grey monochromatic expanse with tiny dots—Black Kites. So, primarily what occurred is that I wished to do one thing in regards to the triangulation of individuals, birds, and air. I believe 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 looking out up on the lazy dots within the sky which can be the Black Kites. After noticing that considered one of them kind of appeared to plummet, I used to be gripped by the determine of a hen 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 aspect and these magisterial birds on the opposite, it’s very thematically dramatic.

Audubon: And also you simply knew immediately they’d be the primary 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 sort of hypnotic, ravenous relationship with Black Kites. I used to be studying a whole lot of literature that featured birds as metaphors—you realize, 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 sort of otherworldly, wondrous, magical being. I used to be very drawn to that perspective.

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

Sen: It’s very fascinating to me that it’s not a conservation disaster as a result of the Black Kite could be very profitable. And I believe Delhi has the densest inhabitants of Black Kites on this planet. The Black Kite could be very central to the town’s metabolism. The movie talks about this huge landfill that’s within the metropolis and the Black Kites are, in a means, a part of the microbiota of the town. If the town is kind of like a abdomen, they’re completely essential to the metabolism of it as a result of they dispense of the trash. They cope with the refuse of the town. They’re completely essential to the town’s ecological framework.

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

Sen: It for certain is a giant risk, and I actually don’t think about that the general public has develop 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 whole lot 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 may be consciousness about it in any respect. It’s extraordinarily, extraordinarily negligible. And the variety of birds which can be falling are usually not lessening in any respect.

Audubon: What was your largest problem making this documentary?

Sen: I believe there have been a number of challenges. I believe discovering the grammar to have the ability to converse in regards to 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 admittedly making one thing out of nothing in any respect, and the world isn’t very supportive. It’s emotionally, financially, creatively exhausting, but it surely’s additionally rewarding—day by day.

However what additionally occurred is I misplaced my father very all of the sudden in the midst of final yr. And to have the ability to be intuitive and genuine to what was taking place in my life and make it—you realize, as a result of your individual life is sort of the uncooked materials for the movie you’re making. And to make use of it to have the ability to categorical the unhappy class of the brothers themselves. They had 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 continually takes loads out of you.

Audubon: In comparison with once you set out on this mission, did you full the movie with a distinct sense of what it was about or a distinct 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 by no means the way it panned out. All of the stuff in regards to the emotional fissures and tensions between the brothers and the turbulent stuff taking place within the streets outdoors socially, you realize, 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 continually 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 influence filming?

Sen: As a result of issues had been so turbulent, the query was whether or not we included all of that. The brothers themselves are usually 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 believe the concept was that it’s going to be an indirect presence. It’s like wallpaper to their lives. And you’ll continually 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 may be brewing. We had been very aware of not making it entrance and heart as a result of it’s not entrance and heart to the lives of the brothers.

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

Sen: Boredom. Once you first present up, individuals are very aware of the essence that they mission in entrance of the digicam, and the cameras are a really obtrusive, large presence to start with. However boredom is your pal as a result of should you hold displaying up and taking pictures day by day, after some time, individuals get uninterested in the digicam, become bored with you. Once you get the primary yawn in entrance of the digicam is when you realize that—you need to get a way of vacancy and the true, and that solely occurs if individuals are not aware of you.

Audubon: What would you say is an important factor you discovered whereas making this movie?

Sen: I believe endurance. It’s very simple to be blinkered to what’s taking place within the non-human world. So I believe that sort of endurance to stick with the difficulty and watch and get a bigger perspective at size, but in addition the endurance to stick with the mission and hold at it till you discover a right and genuine type for it. And that’s very rewarding.

Audubon: There’s a whole lot of ache and disappointment on this movie, but it surely additionally appears to have one thing to say in regards to the thought of hope, or in regards to the potential of each individuals and wildlife to adapt to tough circumstances. Is that this in the end a hopeful work, or is that too simple a response to the difficult themes you’re grappling with right here?

Sen: Nicely, I believe there’s two issues about this. What I discover fascinating within the brothers’ perspective is that, in fact there’s a sort of disappointment and the sort 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 mentioned that, why I discover the brothers fascinating is that they’ve—hope is possibly too simplistic, and I don’t imply it in a simplistic means. 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 any person must take care, which I’ve actually unimaginable respect for. I believe the world wants extra of those Don Quixotes to do these sorts of micro acts and micro gestures. And these develop into the life rafts for hope.


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