LONDON (Reuters): Indian director Shaunak Sen knew he had something special when making BAFTA and Oscar nominated documentary “All That Breathes”, but the 35-year-old filmmaker said it “barely… correlates with the scale” of the recognition he is getting.
His film, about two brothers in Delhi who help care for birds that fall from the sky due to pollution, is competing for best documentary at both major awards shows, starting with this weekend’s British Film Academy Awards, or BAFTAs.
It already picked up prizes at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals.
“I’ve always hated clichés, like, ‘we’re thrilled’. Of course I’m all of that… I also feel overwhelmed,” he told Reuters of his awards and nominations.
“I haven’t got my bearings right yet because this means that the coordinates of life have shifted somewhat, I imagine.”
In “All That Breathes”, which is Sen’s second film, audiences are taken into brothers’ Nadeem and Saud’s makeshift basement hospital as they spend hours caring for fallen black kites, working to get the birds of prey back in the sky.
“I was sat in my car during a traffic jam and I remember looking up and the classic picture postcard of Delhi is a grey sky with these black dots which are the birds. And I had the distinct impression of seeing one of those birds falling,” he said.
“I just googled where do birds that fall off the sky go? And that’s when I first encountered the work of the brothers.”
Sen, who describes his style as “cinematic, creative, essayistic”, used tools from fiction films, such as mounting cameras on cranes and tracks, to make this non-fiction story.
“That had to be the case because the beauty was important with this film. And the grime that you see needn’t be mirrored in form,” he said. “The idea was to make people meditate or contemplate on the ideas that the brothers had. And for that, stillness and beauty is important.”
Sen hopes this “entanglement of human and non-human life” offers a “valuable lesson”.
“Even though (the brothers) live in fairly apocalyptic settings… they still get on with it, with the kind of grumpy kindness that I like quite a bit,” he said.
“So I hope (the film is) a philosophical disposition towards climate change, towards ecology.”