Oscar-Contender ‘All That Breathes’: When Birds Fall From The Sky Over Delhi, Two Brothers Come To Them – Deadline | Episode Movies

One of the top contenders for best documentary at the Oscars this year ranges from the skies above Delhi, India, to a basement beneath the city’s north end.

in the Anything that breathesbrothers Nadeem and Saud run an underground workshop and makeshift veterinary clinic where they help injured and ailing black kites, a bird of prey increasingly vulnerable to Delhi’s intense air pollution.

“I was really fascinated by this figure of the black dot in the sky, the black kite,” recalls filmmaker Shaunak Sen, “the lazily sliding dots you see — one of them starts to fall off. And I remember vaguely seeing that one day as I was driving my car and I was really drawn to that character. So I started researching what happens to birds when they fall. And that’s when I came across the work of the brothers. Once you enter this tiny, humid, air-lit basement and see the metal cutters on one side and these incredible royal birds on the other, it’s cinematically tight and captivating.”

All That Breathes director Shaunak Sen

Courtesy of Salim Khan

Anything that breathes, by Sideshow and Submarine Deluxe in association with HBO Documentary Films, opened in Los Angeles theaters on Friday, a week after its New York debut. The film has been enthusiastically received 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) award at Cannes for Best Documentary of the Festival and was nominated for a Gotham Award for Best Documentary last week and was shortlisted for the IDA Awards.

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

“Just doing Sundance and Cannes, let alone winning them, is already at the top of my wish list,” he told Deadline. “It’s really something that doesn’t feel fully processed. Now to get the film out in cinemas in the UK and US – my brain is still reeling from it.”

Raptor rescuer Mohammad Saud inspects an injured black kite at his clinic in Delhi, India, May 13, 2022.

Raptor rescuer Mohammad Saud inspects an injured black kite at his clinic in Delhi, India, May 13, 2022

Photo by Javed Dar/Xinhua via Getty Images

Over the years, Nadeem and Saud, along with their faithful 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 neural deformities as a result of the air contaminated with harmful particles. The birds patiently allow the brothers to tend to them, sensing what appears to be their healing intent. Not everyone on the film crew was comfortable in cramped quarters with what Sen describes as “feral raptors.”

“Our producer and my close friend Aman [Mann] is petrified of dragons and wouldn’t work near them,” explains Sen. “I’m not too comfortable either, but I can be at a distance. And some of us are very comfortable with it.” Comfortable or not, the director felt compelled to film the birds “as wondrous, otherworldly, awe-inspiring creatures.”

The film not only impresses with its exceptional cinematography (by DOP Ben Bernhard), but also with a sleek voice-over, drawn from stray observations of the brothers during the making of the documentary.

A black kite in the air

Photo by Patrick Pleul/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

“When other birds fly, their effort shows. But the kite swims,” they remark at the beginning of the film. Towards the end they realize: “Life itself is kinship. We are all an air community. So we cannot abandon the birds.”

Nadeem and Saud aren’t exactly men of big words, but what they articulate has power.

“The brothers themselves have … rich inner lives and they are philosophers of the urban,” comments Sen. “So we decided to include these kinds of voiceovers … either cut to the images that evoke their childhood or the magic of the black kite or the ecological absurdity of the city of Delhi. They’re really obviously lyrical set pieces.”

There are touches of humor in the film, coming from the lovable young Salik, who is something of a chick to the brothers’ older, smarter birds.

A black kite and human caretaker Salik Rehman in

Salik Rehman in “Everything That Breathes”

Sideshow/Submarine Deluxe/HBO Documentaries

“Salik gives the film a kind of overt innocence, which helps because it contrasts with the seriousness of the brothers,” says Sen. “He gets the laughs and things happen to him — his glasses are taken away [by a bird]. He says absurd things like, “What happens if there’s a nuclear war — will the birds survive?” … You really fall in love with him.”

Not only is there smog hanging over Delhi, but, like the rest of India, growing political tensions as a result of strident Hindu nationalism. As Muslims, the brothers are potential targets of violence. There is an obvious connection between the toxic sky and the toxic political atmosphere. While the director hints at it, he doesn’t make it an open topic Anything that breathes.

“The sectarian stuff is very evident in what’s happening. And you can feel the political as a kind of skewed tangential presence in the film, the fact that the city is boiling and there has been a lot of turbulence developing in the city of Delhi in the last two years,” Sen notes real world seeping in, and in this way resonances or tremors of the world are perceived. Ultimately, the film is ecological and has no fractal political claims.”

But he adds: “I think it’s totally political in the sense that the brothers care about the relationship between humans and birds, which is a separate kind of politics. But that’s what they’re interested in and we had to respect the integrity of their lives and their causes.”

Sen doesn’t see his film as a nature or animal film. Rather, it is a holistic meditation on the interdependence of living beings – everything that breathes. The fate of the birds is linked to the fate of the people.

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

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

Photo by ALEX OGLE/AFP via Getty Images

As flying predators, dragons scan the world below in search of food. We asked Sen if he saw a similarity between the keen perception of birds and the observational skills necessary for a documentary filmmaker.

“Not in that direct parallels between the dragon and our visual jobs as filmmakers,” he replies. “But birdwatching and filmmaking are very, very similar in that birdwatching is about slowing down, slowing down, not making quick movements, sitting still patiently and becoming a part of the world’s wallpaper. There’s a kind of intense, radical gaze that birdwatching requires, which is very similar to the kind of fly-on-the-wall approach that a lot of documentarians have.”

He adds: “It just means embracing the world’s radical unscriptlessness and just waiting, and eventually life rewards you with surprises. So I suppose filmmaking is fundamentally ornithological in a way.”

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