All That Breathes is a poetic tribute to a New Delhi family that has devoted its life to rescuing black kites that fall wounded from the sky.
The documentary focuses on the family, which has been operating the rescue for decades with the help of donations and other funding sources, and then lyrically pans out for sweeping shots of the sky and cityscape.
With stunning cinematography and utmost attention to the tiniest detail (down to mosquitos buzzing over a puddle), Sen follows Wildlife Rescue cofounders Nadeem and Saud and their equally dedicated volunteer Salik.
The film is an ambitiously intricate study of the intersection of environmental collapse, religious tension, and the love of two Muslim brothers for a feathered scavenger unnervingly falling from a smoggy Delhi sky.
It’s a tale of high drama in which the avian stars serve as canaries in a toxic global coal mine soon to engulf us all.
Nadeem and Saud learned about skeletal and muscle structure and the like from being teenage bodybuilders. They learned about caring for “all that breathes” from their mother.
There’s a scene in which one of the brothers mentions a (February 2020) New York Times profile, which seems to have turned on the funding spigot for their Wildlife Rescue.
Sen hopes his film inspires audiences to feel a kinship with the black kites and their bird relatives. “I want audiences to leave the theater and immediately look up,” he says.
When he read a newspaper article about the brothers, he knew he had the emotional anchor of his story. He found the brothers in the basement with huge, heavy cutting machines and other equipment for producing their soap dispensers.
“I think the brothers want to share their knowledge, receive more knowledge and make a bid for more resources so that they can improve their conditions of work,” he says.