India’s All That Breathes followed up its victory at the Sundance Film Festival by winning top documentary honors in Cannes.
The film directed by Shaunak Sen, which documents a pair of Muslim brothers in Delhi who devote countless hours to restore the health of ailing black kite birds, earned the L’Œil d’or (“Golden Eye”) award in a ceremony on Saturday.
“From their makeshift bird hospital in their tiny basement, the ‘kite brothers’ care for thousands of these mesmeric creatures that drop daily from New Delhi’s smog-choked skies,” notes a description of the documentary. “As environmental toxicity and civil unrest escalate, the relationship between this Muslim family and the neglected kite forms a poetic chronicle of the city’s collapsing ecology and rising social tensions.”
The Golden Eye jury, headed by filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, saluted All That Breathes for reminding “us that every life matters, and every small action matters. You can grab your camera, you can save a bird, you can hunt for some moments of stealing beauty, it matters. It’s an inspirational journey in observation of three Don Quixotes who may not save the whole world but do save their world.”
Joining Holland on the doc jury were Ukrainian filmmaker Iryna Tsilyk (The Earth Is Blue as an Orange), French actor Pierre Deladonchamps, journalist Alex Vicente, and Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Falah. The jury awarded a special prize to Mariupolis 2, a documentary centered around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius was killed by Russian military forces in Ukraine in April while making his film. His fiancée, Hanna Bilobrova, completed the film after his death.
“Our special prize,” the jury wrote in a citation, “goes to the film impossible to compare with any other from the competition — to the very radical, courageous, artistic and existential statement Mariupolis 2.”
The L’Œil d’or award was created in 2015 by LaScam, a French association of writers, directors, translators, photographers and others working in nonfiction media. It comes with a prize of 5,000 euro. Previous winners of the award include Faces Places (2017) and For Sama (2019), both of which went on to earn Oscar nominations.
All That Breathes will be released in theaters in the fall. HBO Documentary Films acquired the title for worldwide television distribution just as Cannes got underway; it will premiere on HBO and sister streaming platform HBO Max in 2023. In January of this year, All That Breathes won the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. It has also screened at the DocAviv Film Festival in Tel Aviv and at Poland’s Krakow Film Festival.
Brothers Mohammed Saud and Nadeem Shahzadas, the stars of All That Breathes, have rehabilitated 20,000 black kites over the years. The birds suffer in Delhi’s intense pollution and face other hazards trying to survive in the metropolis. As birds of prey, they are meat eaters, which can earn them contempt from India’s Hindus, most of whom are vegetarian. The Muslim brothers don’t object to the birds’ carnivorous diet; in fact, they spend huge amounts of time grinding meat to nourish the birds.
A moment of poetic narration in the film observes, “It’s said that feeding kites earns ‘sawab,’ (religious credit). When they eat the meat, they eat away your difficulties.”
It was the second straight L’Œil d’or win for an Indian documentary. A Night of Knowing Nothing, directed by Indian filmmaker Payal Kapadia, won last year. In a further indication of the vigor of Indian documentary making, Writing With Fire, a film by Indian directors Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh that focused on women journalists of India’s Dalit caste, earned an Oscar nomination earlier this year.
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