By Don Simpson | March 3, 2012
Director: Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq
EDHI is a not-for-profit orphanage in Pakistan for runaways and abandoned kids; they also provide ambulance service for the surrounding community. They take whatever measly payments it’s clients can offer, but EDHI’s purpose is to provide services for the poor people of Pakistan who have been abandoned and forgotten by their government. A dire and harrowing portrait of a socio-economic/political catastrophe, EDHI appears to be the very last bastion of hope for underprivileged Pakistani youth. It is impossible not to think about what will happen to these kids if EDHI ever closes and no one else steps in to help. (The founder/owner of EDHI is a 90 year old man who continuously questions what will happen to EDHI when he dies?)
What about the children? Well, Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s These Birds Walk smartly focuses on them, specifically an incredibly complex young boy named Omar. EDHI seems to have no control over the kids — EDHI is as close to Lord of the Flies as non-fiction cinema has ever gotten. The young boys run wild, wrestling, punching and slapping each other; jostling for the alpha positions. But who can blame the kids for being so violent? They are angry and scared, but they also know that they only have each other to rely upon. Despite the violent roughhousing, it is clear that the kids truly love each other. As it turns out, some of the boys (including Omar) feel much safer and more loved at EDHI than they ever did at home.
These Birds Walk is an intriguing documentary, not just because of its subject matter, but because of its approach to non-fiction storytelling. Mullick and Tariq establish an intimate relationship with their subjects, both literally and figuratively. The subjects at times seem remarkably aware of the presence of the camera, one might even assume that they perform and show off because of it; as DSLR cameras allow for very intimate camerawork that remains organically bound to the faces of the kids.
So the inherent question in the title of the True/False Film Festival (where These Birds Walk screened as a work in progress) applies to this film. Is These Birds Walk truth or fiction? Or by blurring the line between documentary and narrative are Mullick and Tariq presenting to us a heightened reality akin to the films of Robert Flaherty?
For me, These Birds Walk serves as a warning siren for the United States. As rightwing politicians selfishly fight to irradiate social services from the government’s budget, These Birds Walk reveals the exact reason I feel we can’t rely upon private enterprise and civilians to pick up the slack. There are some kind souls out there, like EDHI, but it certainly is not a solution.