These Birds walk is a documentary film directed by Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq. Following the lives of Pakistani children, aid workers, and one dedicated old man, the film shows in gorgeous and heart breaking detail, the struggle of runaways and those who try to care for them. These Birds Walk avoids talking heads and op-ed rants about global causes, national conflicts and domestic policies. The film stays small, and is all the more grand because of it. We see the faces of the people of the story. They are not statistics in studies. One of the directors, Omar Mullick, said he, “became very jaded with the ongoing, incessant conversations about politics, politics, politics. Everyone is reduced to these pawns in a conversation about extremist political forces. If there’s any region that has suffered a lot from that, it’s Pakistan (Bomblog, 2013).” And this is one of the films powers, that these scenes are not meant to be evidence in a debate about Pakistan vs. the West. We just get to see the prayers, the fights, the wishes, and the tears of children who wish to go home.
The film opens with Abdul Sattar Edhi, the founder and director of a scrappy NGO dedicated to fighting in any way it can, the poverty and violence of Karachi Pakistan. Edhi himself is no self serving politician but show washing the tiny bodies of children. He does not grandstand but states, “to find me, look among ordinary people. My story is there.”
And the directors do. Cut to a few young boys in one of Edhi’s homes, runaways who band together, or fight over sandals and curse over offenses, over their common loneliness. Some of the most heartbreaking moments of the film come when two boys discuss their homes and family. They talk about what they would do when they finally get to go home, or are claimed by their families, and soon begin to cry. The filmmakers do not cut away, they do not fade to sunset but stay close, making us bear witness.
One of the most powerful scenes of the film is when young Omar, on his way home, asks to stop by a shrine. The driver, one of our protagonists, repeatedly says they cannot stop as it is too far out of the way but Omar insists. When they arrive Omar runs for the entrance and the cameraman darts after him. The crowd, the police and the worshippers cram together, but Omar darts around them. Is he trying to escape? Why is he running? But soon we see him standing beside the altar, praying. His tiny body pressed against the cement while a long line of others pass by him. He is alone, but pressed against his faith. Is he thanking God for the chance to return home? Is he begging for forgiveness? Is he asking for protection as they enter Taliban territory?
Some reviews call the film “the type of documentary you’d expect Terrence Malick or Michael Haneke to make,” and that is high praise. With lush colors, and a slow narrative, the film does not concern itself with causes or transnational issues. The purpose and goal of the film is stay small. We rarely know where we are, and neither do the boys. Omar has trouble giving directions back to his house and cannot help find the way. The film never zooms out to give us the context and do we need it? The context is in the faces of these boys and the old whiskers of Edhi and the dusty feet of the ambulance drivers. Are we called to know why we should care? Do we need to know statistics before we step in? Is the point of compassion to be proven its need first? These Birds Walk opens our eyes to Omar, Edhi, Shehr, Asad, and Mumtaz. Those are the names and faces we need to care about. We need their story. We do not need to know how or why they came to be there in order to have our hearts broken? We do not need to have a thought out and developed plan for curing social ills. Those come later. We merely need to see the prayers and wishes of these boys in their brokenness. We can step in and figure out the rest later.
And the Scriptures say:
‘I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’