These Birds Walk: Narrating Homelessness
The categories of nonfiction narration and documentary are deceptive. They imply the presentation of reality or a slice of it at least, fully equipped with demonstrable facts and truths. However, despite being grounded in “real” contexts rather than imagined spaces and/or circumstances, these narratives are very much the products of their creators’ subjectivities.
In contrast, directors Omar Mullick and*Bassam Tariq’s These Birds Walk which introduces some of Karachi’s runaway children and the caretakers who find and look after them lacks the sit-down interviews, overarching tour guide-like narration and semi-staged dialogue that is often a hallmark of documentary filmmaking. The relatively short 71-minute work flows like a piece of fiction, utilizing the aesthetics of poetry to communicate more than just information about the lives and struggles of these children. It digs deeper, zooming in on the tragic sensibilities that the dismal state of Pakistani affairs, hovering in the background, has cultivated in some of the country’s disenfranchised youths, allowing them as individuals to express for themselves how they came to feel homeless, without curation or coaxing.
The film draws on the universal need for a physical and emotional home, connecting viewers to children who otherwise have little in common with them, highlighting the precariousness of essentials like family and home that we often take for granted and which, in a place like Karachi, might be more difficult to construct and maintain than in more comfortable contexts. The film does not focus on the material poverty and physical abuse these children have suffered, which would certainly shock many viewers cognitively but, alien as it is to their own experiences, wouldn’t allow them to viscerally engage with the characters on screen. Rather, the work taps into our shared desire for home, making the children’s pain, loss and longing more palpable, poignant and unsettling for the viewer, making this film an overwhelming and hard to shake off experience rather than a mere work to be consumed, appreciated and eventually forgotten.
In stark contrast to what we normally expect from a documentary, the lens of Mullick and Tariq drags the viewer into the subjectivities of a number of select children, whose words and actions, views and beliefs, are often considered to be antithetical to “facts” but who, filmed in an honest engagement with their unfolding circumstances, communicate more “truth” about modern Karachi and its effect on its younger population than a series of interviews with “experts” possibly could. Mullick and Tariq film children at the Edhi Foundation in Karachi fighting, praying, playing and meditating precociously on their condition, oscillating between a moving desire to return to their families and a paradoxical desire to escape the domestic inadequacies that drove them away in the first place. Contrasting with the nonlinear mosaic that constitutes this narrative of adolescent homelessness is the story of an Edhi ambulance driver who was also once a lost youth, but found within the space of the foundation room to improve his circumstances and channel his pain into a productive trade. Helping many who are a mirror image of himself, he is able to show them that however dim the present and however limited the possibilities, there is room for improvement, and it is never too late to find home.
*Filmmaker Bassam Tariq in attendance
Second Screening: Sat 10/26/2013 18:15 VOX 6