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Document about the birds of Delhi and the brothers who help them – deadline

One of the top contenders for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards ranges from the skies above Delhi, India, to the basement beneath the city’s north.

U Everything that breathesbrothers Nadeem and Saud run an underground workshop and makeshift animal hospital where they help injured and sick black kites, a bird of prey that is increasingly vulnerable to Delhi’s intense air pollution.

“I was very fascinated by this figure of a black dot in the sky, which is a black kite,” – recalls the director Shaunak Sen, “the lazy sliding dots you see—one of them is starting to fall. And I remember seeing it vaguely one day when I was driving a car, and that number really got me. So I started researching what happens to birds when they fall. And then I came across the work of the brothers. The minute you walk into that tiny, damp, air-lit cellar and you see the metal cutting machines on one side and these incredible royal birds on the other, it’s cinematically dense and exciting.”

Everything That Breathes is directed by Shonak Sen

Courtesy of Salim Khan

Everything that breathesfrom Internet and Submarine deluxe together with HBO documentaries, opened in Los Angeles theaters on Friday, a week after debuting in New York. The film has been recognized since its world premiere last January at Sundance, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary. It won the Golden Eye (L’Oeil d’or) at Cannes as the festival’s best documentary, and last week was nominated for the Gotham Award for Best Documentary and was shortlisted for the IDA Awards.

The recognition came as a surprise to Sen, as it is only his second documentary.

“Just getting to Sundance and Cannes, let alone winning them, is already at the top of my wish list,” he tells Deadline. “It’s really something that doesn’t seem quite processed. Now for the film to be shown in the UK and the US – my brain is still spinning around that.”

Predator rescuer Mohammad Saud examines an injured black kite at his clinic in Delhi, India, on May 13, 2022.

Predator rescuer Mohammad Saud examines an injured black kite at his clinic in Delhi, India, on May 13, 2022.

Photo by Javed Dar/Xinhua via Getty Images

Over the years, Nadeem and Saud, along with their trusted assistant Salik, have rehabilitated more than 20,000 birds, most of them kites. More and more of them suffer not only from injuries, but also from metabolic bone damage and nerve deformities as a result of air filled with harmful particles. The birds patiently allow the brothers to care for them, seemingly sensing their healing intent. Not everyone on the film crew was comfortable being in tight quarters with what Sen calls “fierce predators.”

“Ours producer and my close friend Aman [Mann] is afraid of kites and will not work near them,” explains Sen. “I’m not very comfortable either, but I can be at arm’s length. And it is very convenient for some of us.” Convenient or not, the director felt compelled to film the birds “as wonderful, otherworldly, fascinating creatures.”

The film impresses not only with its exceptional cinematography (DOP Ben Bernhardt), but also with an elegant voice-over, taken from casual observations made by the brothers during the filming of the documentary.

A black kite in the air

Photo by Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

“When other birds fly, their efforts are visible. But the kite floats,” they note at the beginning of the film. Towards the end, they note: “Life itself is kinship.” We are all a community of air. That’s why we can’t give up birds.”

Nadeem and Saud are not necessarily men of many words, but what they articulate has power.

“The brothers themselves have … a rich inner life, and they are urban philosophers,” comments Sen. “So we decided to include such off-screen bits… to cut either images that refer to their childhood, or the magic of the black kite, or the environmental absurdity of the city of Delhi. These are really clearly lyrical compositions.’

The film has humorous touches that come from the cute young Salik, who is like a chick to the older, wiser bird brothers.

Black Kite and Human Caretaker Salik Rehman in the film

Salik Rehman in All That Breathes

Sideshow/Submarine Deluxe/HBO Documentaries

“Salik brings a kind of carefree innocence to the film, which is helpful because it contrasts with the seriousness of the brothers,” says Sen. “He laughs, and something happens to him – his glasses are taken away [by a bird]. He says absurd things like, “What would happen if there was a nuclear war – would the birds survive?” … You really fall in love with him.”

Not only is smog hanging over Delhi, but like the rest of India, political tensions are rising as a result of strident Hindu nationalism. The brothers, as Muslims, are potential targets of violence. There is a clear connection between a toxic sky and a toxic political atmosphere. Although the director hints at this, he does not make it an open topic Everything that breathes.

“Sectarianism is very clearly visible in what is happening. And you can feel the political as a sort of oblique tangential presence in the film, the fact that the city is seething and there has been a lot of turbulence in the city of Delhi in the last two years,” notes Sen. “I was interested in how the real world permeates, and how the resonances or tremors of the world are felt. The film is completely ecological and has no fractal political ambitions.”

But he adds: “I feel it’s strongly political in the sense that the brothers are concerned with the relationship between humans and birds, which is its own politics. But that’s what they’re interested in, and we had to respect the integrity of their lives and their concerns.”

Sen does not see his film as a nature or wildlife film. Rather, it is a holistic reflection on the interdependence of living beings – everything that breathes. The fate of birds is connected with the fate of man.

An Indian black kite flies past the 16th-century Mughal monument Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi on February 8, 2019.

A black kite flies past the 16th-century Mughal monument, Humayun’s Tomb, in Delhi on February 8, 2019.

Photo by ALEX OGLE/AFP via Getty Images

As aerial predators, kites scan the world around them in search of food. We asked Sen if he saw any parallels between the keen perception of birds and the observational skills required of a documentary filmmaker.

“Not because there are direct parallels between the kite and our visual work as filmmakers,” he replies. “But birdwatching and filmmaking are very, very similar, because what happens is that birdwatching requires you to slow down, slow down, no fast movements, sit patiently still and become part of the wallpaper of the world. Birdwatching requires a kind of intense, radical look that is very similar to the approach of many documentarians.’

He adds: “It’s just about accepting the radical unscriptedness of the world and just waiting, and eventually life rewards you with surprises. So I guess filmmaking is, in a way, ornithological.’


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