I first posted something about These Birds Walk last June, so I’m updating and adding to that post here.
One of the most interesting things about getting older: seeing the amazing work your old friends do.
Omar Mullick wasn’t even doing film or photography when I got to know him in the mid-1990s in Philadelphia, but now his projects include shooting, co-directing, and co-producing These Birds Walk, a documentary on Abdul Sattar Edhi, called “a living saint” in this Telegraph piece.
Omar and Bassam Tariq traveled back and forth to Pakistan over three years to complete the feature, which has been drawing rave reviews this week at SXSW.
Throughout These Birds Walk, the featured boys grapple with the idea of what “home” really is, their relationships with God and their families and the meaning of their existence in halfway house limbo. Mullick and Tariq do an admirable job avoiding the tropes the West typically uses to portray Middle Eastern culture, centering their vision on the lives of the people they came to know and love throughout their time in Pakistan. These Birds Walk is scheduled to be in theaters this fall. See it if you have the chance, but you might want to bring a few tissues because it really is that moving.
Mullick and University of Texas grad Tariq pull no punches here — These Birds Walk is an unflinching look at the lives of these two males in Karachi. We can see why Asad might prefer to convey cold corpses in his ambulance rather than taking boys to their homes; it is obvious he is affected by the reactions from the families upon the return of their boys. The filmmakers spent a few months with the boy Omar, recording him as he makes and loses dear friends, cries about missing his parents, and fights with other kids. Omar and Asad are complicated figures, and this complexity isn’t glossed over in this documentary.
Aesthetics aside, the film is a heartwrenching bit of non-fiction storytelling. No talking heads or interviews, hell, there isn’t even a true narration, the film relies on natural dialogue and the situations that arise out of the story. From the endlessly mature conversations about God, one’s own self worth and even thoughts of suicide, to a tracking shot of a boy running through the streets like his life depends on getting to a spot to pray, the film is a hauntingly sad meditation on the idea that no matter how strong one truly is, we are all incomplete without a “home.” […]
However, the film isn’t without awe inspiring style. The type of naturalistic documentary you’d expect a filmmaker like Terrence Malick or in many ways (at least intellectually, not so much stylistically) Michael Haneke to make, These Birds Walk employs a fluid camera, that while it may be consistently moving, never flinches. There are a handful of tracking shots here that are absolutely stunning, ranging from the Master-like shot following a child running, right to left, that opens the film, to a following shot of a child running down a hallway, the film features superb photography that both adds style to this world, while also allowing its naturalism to seep directly into the DNA of the picture.
Yet another example of how non-fiction film making is home to some of film’s most interesting stories, These Birds Walk will likely be lost amongst the hustle and bustle of this year’s SXSW Film Festival. However, if you find yourself looking at your schedule in hunt of a breathtaking piece of work that you may not know much about, this is that, and then some.
I can’t wait for a chance to see the film.
Here’s a clip that IndieWire posted of one of the film’s tracking shots:
Omar’s photography is pretty stunning too.