If you’re here because you’ve heard about THESE BIRDS WALK and are trying to figure out if you want to watch it, let me save you the trouble. Just go see it. In addition to being a lovingly crafted example of an observational documentary, THESE BIRDS WALK is also a nuanced window into the lives of several people in Karachi, Pakistan, a part of the world that is too often to subjected to the sort of drive-by journalism that leaves Western audiences with a reductive and cartoonish view of the country’s people. Further, directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq have delivered a much needed rebuke to journalist Nicolas Kristoff’s problematic rationale for the use of “bridge characters”–usually white or Western subjects whose presence is intended to give viewers of a similar background an empathic jumping off point for documentary work set in a world that’s unfamiliar to them.
Tariq and Mullick began their film with the intent to tell the story of the revered humanitarian figure Abdul Satar Edhi. However, Edhi’s soft resistance to documentation eventually led them to instead focus on several runaways who had sought shelter in Karachi at the Edhi Foundation, along with an ambulance driver who is compelled to help them despite his financial impulses to the contrary. I spoke with Tariq recently on audience expectations, the use of music as a tool for manipulation, and other subjects.
THESE BIRDS WALK starts a theatrical run on Friday, Nov. 1 at Village East Cinema, and Tariq and Mullick will be in attendance at all of the screenings this weekend, beginning with the one at 5:30 p.m. on Friday.
Stranger Than Fiction: You have a pretty varied background–I know you work in advertising and you’ve been a contributor to Boing Boing. You created a “transmedia” project called 30 Days/30 Mosques and another called 30 Days Ramadan. What made you want to take a more linear documentary approach to THESE BIRDS WALK?
Bassam Tariq: The funny thing is that THESE BIRDS WALK was in production or in pre-production before any of that stuff had happened. When I first came to New York I was just working in advertising. I think within a year I had the idea of making this film. The way film works–it just takes forever to get through one. You end up doing so many other things as you’re working on it. I think that’s the one thing I’ve realized, I can’t just do one thing. Some people focus on just one film, and it becomes their life. And that’s what ended up happening in post-production for us, we ended up just working on the film. But it’s very emotionally taxing as well because after you’re done with the film, if you don’t get the reception that you were looking for it’s really devastating. I think it’s hard not to have high expectations–or expectations at all–when you work on something. I think the best way to not have them is to have multiple projects going.