As its title suggests, Shaunak Sen’s movie, now in theaters and streaming subsequent yr on HBO Max, is about rather 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 brought about an estimated 54,000 untimely deaths in 2020 and the place its “sheer opacity,” per the film’s web site, “ensures that greater birds, particularly raptors, repeatedly collide into buildings or get entangled in wires.” And looming behind Sen’s lyrical pictures of this city atmosphere is a wave of horrific sectarian violence towards Muslims just like the movie’s heroes.
Most instantly, although, All That Breathes—the primary movie to win greatest documentary at each the Sundance and Cannes festivals—is in regards to the brothers’ refusal to disregard the struggling of the ample however susceptible 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: Whenever 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 type of grey lamina that’s always 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, primarily what occurred is that I wished to do one thing in regards to 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 are the Black Kites. After noticing that one among them kind of appeared to plummet, I used to be gripped by the determine of a fowl 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 straight away 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 a number of literature that featured birds as metaphors—you understand, 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 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 feel Delhi has the densest inhabitants of Black Kites on the planet. The Black Kite could be very central to town’s metabolism. The movie talks about this huge landfill that’s within the metropolis and the Black Kites are, in a manner, a part of the microbiota of town. If 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 town. They’re completely essential to town’s ecological framework.
Audubon: We’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 major risk to Black Kites or has the general public develop into 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 develop into conscious of it but. On sure days of the yr which are huge for the nation culturally, what occurs is that as they’re flying kites from the terrace, a number 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 assume there may be consciousness about it in any respect. It’s extraordinarily, extraordinarily negligible. And the variety of birds which are falling aren’t 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 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 de facto 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—each day.
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 understand, as a result of your personal life is form 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 always takes so much out of you.
Audubon: In comparison with whenever you set out on this undertaking, did you full the movie with a unique sense of what it was about or a unique understanding of the connection between individuals and birds?
Sen: Utterly completely 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 occurring within the streets exterior socially, you understand, the truth that town was on the boil exterior and all of that—I didn’t anticipate in any respect. A number of it always modified, which is the way it ought 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 aren’t, 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 town was at that time erupting with. I didn’t wish 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 always tangentially sense the political quite than flatly confront it. So it leaks by 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 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 number 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 digital camera?
Sen: Boredom. Whenever you first present up, persons are very acutely aware of the essence that they undertaking in entrance of the digital camera, and the cameras are a really obtrusive, huge presence to start with. However boredom is your pal as a result of in the event you maintain exhibiting up and taking pictures each day, after some time, individuals get uninterested in the digital camera, get tired of you. Whenever you get the primary yawn in entrance of the digital camera is when you understand that—you wish 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 discovered whereas making this movie?
Sen: I feel persistence. It’s very simple to be blinkered to what’s occurring within the non-human world. So I feel that form of persistence to stick with the difficulty and watch and get a bigger perspective at size, but in addition the persistence to stick with the undertaking and maintain at it till you discover a right and genuine kind for it. And that’s very rewarding.
Audubon: There may be a number of ache and unhappiness 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 capability of each individuals and wildlife to adapt to troublesome 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: Effectively, I feel there’s two issues about this. What I discover fascinating within the brothers’ perspective is that, after all there’s a form of unhappiness 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 fascinating is that they’ve—hope is possibly too simplistic, and I don’t imply it in a simplistic manner. 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 individual must take care, which I’ve actually unimaginable respect for. I feel 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.