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‘All That Breathes’: A meditative documentary film about an Indian bird sanctuary that is full of soul-transforming magic

'All That Breathes', the award-winning documentary, follows two brothers who run an animal hospital for injured black kites affected by New Delhi's pollution. The brothers, Nadeem and Saud, have saved about 25,000 birds over the last 15 years.

ELLEN E. JONES: The opening shot of All That Breathes (Sky Documentaries) comes into focus – a ground-level pan across an abandoned wasteland – and not since Pixar’s Ratatouille have so many squabbling vermin been granted so much cinematic dignity. This is the Delhi of documentary film-maker Shaunak Sen… All That Breathes is already internationally recognised, nabbing the grand jury prize at Sundance, best documentary at Cannes, as well as Bafta and Oscar nominations. Now, thanks to this Sky Documentaries slot, an even wider audience can be confronted by the strange beauty of a thousand rats by moonlight.

Many other wildlife species also feature – particularly the black kite, which dots the Delhi skies and stalks its landfill sites – but this isn’t a nature documentary. Rather, the subject is brothers Nadeem and Saud, who, through dedicating their lives to the care of these majestic raptors, have developed an understanding of the city ecosystem that cannot be put into words. It has to be seen. Indeed, Sen’s slow-tracking camera captures so much that is beautiful, unexpected and profound, in and around the brothers’ makeshift, basement bird sanctuary, that it seems some of it must have been set up or scripted…

All that Breathes is never cutesy or sentimental. The daily tasks involved in kite conservation prompt Nadeem and Saud to musings on the human condition that follow the animist example set by their late mother. It is from her outlook on the interconnectedness of all living things that the film takes its title: “One shouldn’t differentiate between all that breathes.”

Sen’s camera is careful not to. Many documentaries are interested in finding “the small story that tells the big story”, but this isn’t that. While Nadeem and Saud’s work continues because of, in spite of and in the midst of such large-scale crises as chronic air pollution and rising Islamophobic violence, there is no hierarchy of importance intimated.

Instead, All That Breathes is meditative, truthful film-making that deserves to be seen anywhere the human animal coexists with others. Television can reach that audience. And yet how this kind of film-making is seen matters too. All That Breathes has soul-transforming magic to perform, but the spell won’t work unless we can surrender to its slower natural rhythms and, like a birdwatcher, become still. That’s easier to do in the darkened space of a cinema than it is in a distraction-filled living room. SOURCE…


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