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The Sundance Film Festival will take place from January 18–28 2024.




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ALL THAT BREATHES : Sundance 2022 Interview with Director: Shaunak Sen-All



Sundance 2022


Interview with Director: Shaunak Sen-All

Interview by Emmanuel Itier


Q: Where did the inspiration come from, why this passion for these birds: the black kites?


Shaunak: It wasn’t really clear at first what I wanted to do with this film even, so it was in the back of my mind for a while. When you live in Delhi, you’re in the middle of grey skies and that bad air you’re beathing constantly with so many houses having an air purifier inside. There is something singularly dystopic in this world. I was always aware of these skies full of “lazy” dots in the skies: the black kites. I wanted to make a film where, immediately, people feel like looking up in the skies. And soon I came upon the work of these two brothers, Mohammad and Nadeem who protect these birds. I was very impressed by their hard work and how, constantly, they try to heal these birds who are suffering of various hurts. It was very surreal and cinematic. And then for the next 2 to 3 years we kept filming these brothers engaged in their task. At the same time, I was shooting non-human life in order to illustrate what I was trying to achieve for a compelling film.  The brothers were the emotional anchors and we needed to zoom out with another perspective: the ones of the birds and the city itself. These two things happened almost simultaneously, and it took almost 3 years to get to this point.



Q: What type of challenges did you face making this film?


Shaunak: Making a movie with no clear end in view was a dauting task, like climbing a gigantic mountain! You keep looking up and never down as you really don’t know what will take shape. It’s a challenge but it’s also the most exciting part of the process. Everything was a challenge such as winning the trust of the two brothers. It’s really about winning the trust of these characters, more than anything else. You have to get to the point where they don’t care about your camera anymore. Also, it was about finding the correct cinematic form and grammar for this documentary. It’s about getting the right cinematic pans or tilts of your camera. It emerges intuitively. And once you get the right emotional core of the film. But it’s also about finding the sweet spot when you edit, to get to the right balance between the two brothers’ story and the filming of the birds and the city itself.


Q: What is this film about for you, beyond the story itself, are there some themes and messages of importance?


Shaunak: My priority was trying to figure out what the film was not going to be. I didn’t want to make a nature documentary and I didn’t want to make a “frontly” activist or political film. I wanted to make a film with several layers of understanding, about the wildlife, about the relationship between the two brothers. And of course, there is the social unrest and the volatility of the outside world. It’s about the resonance of the real life, of the real world. The birds are a metaphor about climate change and about ecological malice. It’s obvious. And it also shows the social unrest and the political tumult that takes place. My goal was to present a poetic snapshot of Delhi. And to show the ecological collapse, the social volatility, and the human condition. I don’t have a capsule of the message, but this is in essence what I was trying to express with this film.




Q: What does Sundance means to you and your expectations?


Shaunak: Being in Sundance means everything! But this all new to me. When we got selected the film was at an early stage of completion. Therefore, I had to work very hard to make it to Sundance as a completed picture. It was a crazy three months’ sprint to achieve the film and be able to deliver it so it could be screened. Also, Sundance helped us make this film and felt nurtured by the festival. So, it means a lot for us to be in Sundance even so I cannot be there physically. For us it's a broader and wider way to expose this film. I feel very honored and rewarded to be part of Sundance.


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