In the city of Delhi and all over India, air pollution has become a serious problem. Delhi’s air quality has become a severe danger to not only humans, but the animals and nature surrounding the city, adding to a growing list of issues facing contemporary Indian society today. As seen in the documentary It all breathesTwo brothers take unique approaches to save the region’s birds, which are falling from the sky due to pollutants. Directed by Chunak Seneye opening documentary It touches on many different topics and themes during its time running, and has become a staple at film festivals and award shows globally. The film won the Golden Eye Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2023.
Manager join us It all breathes to discuss the documentary.
MW: How did you originally come across the brothers’ story?
Chunak Sen: I wanted to do something live; I live in Delhi, and everyone is so preoccupied with the gray, opaque, sterile air quality. I was also kind of thinking about human and non-human relationships philosophically. I was fascinated by birds, and when I started googling, “what happens to birds when they fall [of the sky]The work of the two brothers came. That’s how it started.
MW: So did you contact them first and then decide to do a documentary?
O: Yes, the moment you visit that basement, the movie is cinematic in nature. Those birds among that filthy industrial basement. I was totally blown away by how cinematic it was. I’ve been shooting for three years.
MW: There’s quite a bit of subtext and context going on in the background It all breathes. During those three years, were any decisions made about what should and should not be shown on camera?
O: When we started, it was primarily an environmental and philosophical film. Then, Delhi was going through a turbulent time, a socially turbulent time. And the real challenge and question was whether to position the camera in the correct orientation, or respect the integrity of the story you’re shooting. So what we’ve decided is that the outside world is going to kind of leak out. The leak as a form has become a kind of aesthetic, where a character goes to the balcony, and hears the hum of a crowd, or a character looks at a video of what appears to be political violence, but you only hear his voice. So you hear ringing or echoes of this kind permeate or bleed into this world. I wanted it where the social connection is like a faint haze you can feel.
MW: Since you’ve been shooting for over three years, you must have had a lot of shots. What is the process for making the decision about what to leave out or cut out?
oWe had about three hundred hours of footage, so we had to edit one at a time. We were editing while we were filming for five months, and then we went to Copenhagen. There, we already had a three-hour baseline to work with. There were three tales in the story: the environment, which is the animals, and the brothers, with their personal and emotional lives, and then there is the socio-political. These became guide blocks, and we kept swinging between them. But somehow, the movie keeps darting between extreme compression and decompression. So we go from a crowded, stuffy little cellar to the open skies of Delhi and back. It is constant pressure and decompression, like inhalation and exhalation, like breathing. This has become a kind of liberation rhythm.
MovieWeb: Based on that, were many of the shots and photos intentional before heading off to shoot? Or did it just happen during production?
O: It was coming into place where we were filming, because it was like that architecturally, and I love that ebb and flow between the private and the whole. The documentary film allows for this in particular, it opens up an established genre of ping-pong that matches the very specific and the general. When that is rounded out architecturally, even better.
Looking towards the sky
MovieWeb: What are your sources of inspiration when it comes to filmmaking?
O: Cinematically, it’s about someone like Victor Kosakowski. Liberating Wisdom, Gianfranco Rossi. In general, it was Tarkovsky.
MovieWeb: Both sleeping cities And It all breathes Covering a huge topic: Contemporary Delhi. As a filmmaker, what do you hope to achieve with the medium?
O: with It all breathes, The approach of the brothers, that is, the general attitude to the intertwining of human and non-human, is a kind of quiet grace that guarantees their whole life. When I met them, the sky and the birds enchanted me, and I hope you will do the same for the public. I hope the audience will leave the stage and search.
MovieWeb: Documentary filmmaking is very intimate, and this is what I just got. How did you navigate as a filmmaker, with a camera, and interact with the brothers?
O: Well, for starters, we had to work really hard to get them out of the talking head format. The whole point was that they didn’t have to do anything, they had to get on with their lives. So the first month…the shots are utter bullshit because they were so camera conscious. But it’s a pretty necessary rite of passage, but you have to wait until everyone is bored, and really unaware of your camera or you. So I am no longer an intruder, nor is the camera. This is when it gets even better. After three years, you naturally become a part of their lives, so it gets easier.