Featuring a conversation with Shaunak Sen about his film, ALL THAT BREATHES.
In one of the world's most populated cities, cows, rats, monkeys, frogs, and hogs jostle cheek-by-jowl with people. Here, two brothers fall in love with a bird - the black kite. From their makeshift bird hospital in their tiny basement, the "kite brothers" care for thousands of these mesmeric creatures that drop daily from New Delhi's smog-choked skies.
That is the synopsis for the film ALL THAT BREATHES by Shaunak Sen, which could sound straight out of an allegory - but this story is far from metaphor. Instead, it brings us close to the ecological crisis our planet and all its inhabitants face and the political toxicity and violence inflicted on one another.
It's a devastatingly honest, straightforward, lucid picture of where we are in humanity. And though this film is set in a specific moment in time and place (filming overlapped during escalating social unrest that came with the passing of a new citizenship law in India that excludes Muslims), it is far from elsewhere.
The circumstances the film brings into focus, and the emotional reverberations belong to everyone - to all of us.
This festival season, I am finding myself gravitating towards films that confront the challenges of living on this planet - where not only is our ecology collapsing, but where toxic discrimination, dehumanization, and oppressive political structures also threaten us.
It is overwhelming to begin to think about the enormity of collective pain and wounds inflicted on human life and then to start to factor in non-human lifeforms as well; it just becomes too enormous to contain, to make sense of, to look at.
And that is precisely what makes ALL THAT BREATHES such a necessary film to experience. It holds all these things together in a visible way.
When I first watched this film, it was during its virtual premiere at Sundance, and I screened it together with a friend and collaborator, Eka Tsotsoria - and we were both stunned. It's a beautiful film, it's very sensitive, gentle, and layered. But it also somehow left us feeling hopeful - and we grew curious about this - how one could construct a film of this nature and still convey a sense of hope?
And as we searched for questions to ask Shanauk Sen for this conversation, it became interesting to think about the questions that the film asks for us. We are far beyond simply wondering, what are we doing to the planet? Rather, how are we coping with what we are doing to the planet, and how is the planet coping with what we are doing?