As its title suggests, Shaunak Sen’s movie, now in theaters and streaming subsequent 12 months 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, commonly collide into buildings or get entangled in wires.” And looming behind Sen’s lyrical pictures of this city setting 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 finest documentary at each the Sundance and Cannes festivals—is concerning the brothers’ refusal to disregard the struggling of the considerable 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: If you reside in a metropolis like Delhi, the air form of has a heavy, opaque, omnipresent high quality. It’s such as you’re surrounded by this type of grey lamina that’s continuously 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, basically what occurred is that I wished to do one thing concerning 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 site visitors jam and searching up on the lazy dots within the sky which might be the Black Kites. After noticing that certainly one of them form 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 once 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 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 form of hypnotic, ravenous relationship with Black Kites. I used to be studying loads of literature that featured birds as metaphors—, 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 form 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 may be very profitable. And I believe Delhi has the densest inhabitants of Black Kites on the earth. The Black Kite may 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 method, a part of the microbiota of the town. If the town is form 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.
Audubon: We’ve written about how these birds may be injured or killed by sharpened strings used for aggressive kite flying within the metropolis. Is that also a major risk to Black Kites or has the general public turn out to be extra conscious of the hazard for the birds?
Sen: It for positive is a giant risk, and I actually don’t think about that the general public has turn out to be conscious of it but. On sure days of the 12 months which might be huge for the nation culturally, what occurs is that as they’re flying kites from the terrace, loads of birds get entangled within the wires, and it’s an actual downside. The variety of birds that fall are very, very, very huge. 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 suppose there’s consciousness about it in any respect. It’s extraordinarily, extraordinarily negligible. And the variety of birds which might be falling usually are not lessening in any respect.
Audubon: What was your greatest problem making this documentary?
Sen: I believe there have been a number of challenges. I believe discovering the grammar to have the ability to communicate concerning the brothers, discovering the grammar of how one can present the multiplicity of animals in a movie, and discovering the grammar to speak about birds creatively and lyrically. Making a nonfiction movie is de facto making one thing out of nothing in any respect, and the world isn’t very supportive. It’s emotionally, financially, creatively exhausting, nevertheless it’s additionally rewarding—every single day.
However what additionally occurred is I misplaced my father very out of the blue in the course of final 12 months. And to have the ability to be intuitive and genuine to what was taking place in my life and make it—, as a result of your individual life is form 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 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 continuously takes loads out of you.
Audubon: In comparison with whenever you set out on this challenge, did you full the movie with a special sense of what it was about or a special understanding of the connection between folks and birds?
Sen: Fully completely different. Initially I believed 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 concerning the emotional fissures and tensions between the brothers and the turbulent stuff taking place within the streets exterior socially, , the truth that the town was on the boil exterior and all of that—I didn’t anticipate in any respect. A variety of it continuously 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 had been so turbulent, the query was whether or not we included all of that. The brothers themselves usually are not, frankly, political folks 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’d continuously tangentially sense the political relatively than flatly confront it. So it leaks by way of 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 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 loads 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. If you first present up, persons are very aware of the essence that they challenge in entrance of the digicam, and the cameras are a really obtrusive, huge presence to start with. However boredom is your pal as a result of if you happen to hold displaying up and capturing every single day, after some time, folks get tired of the digicam, become bored with you. If you get the primary yawn in entrance of the digicam is when that—you need to get a way of vacancy and the actual, and that solely occurs if persons are not aware of you.
Audubon: What would you say is crucial factor you discovered whereas making this movie?
Sen: I believe persistence. It’s very straightforward to be blinkered to what’s taking place within the non-human world. So I believe that form of persistence to stick with the difficulty and watch and get a bigger perspective at size, but additionally the persistence to stick with the challenge and hold at it till you discover a right and genuine kind for it. And that’s very rewarding.
Audubon: There’s loads of ache and disappointment on this movie, nevertheless it additionally appears to have one thing to say concerning the thought of hope, or concerning the capacity of each folks and wildlife to adapt to troublesome circumstances. Is that this in the end a hopeful work, or is that too straightforward a response to the difficult themes you’re grappling with right here?
Sen: Effectively, I believe there’s two issues about this. What I discover attention-grabbing within the brothers’ perspective is that, after all there’s a form of disappointment and the form 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 method. 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 someone 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 turn out to be the life rafts for hope.