by Abdul Sitar Edhi, the Edhi Foundation is a 24-hour emergency organization
that services much of Pakistan. Offering shelter for runaway children and
burial for the unclaimed dead, the nonprofit organization provides necessary
social services for poverty-ridden Pakistan, shouldering a heavy burden for the
decrepit nation. With only 250 locations throughout the land, it’s a constant
struggle for the organization to mobilize resources and obtain funding, both
from private and public sectors. These
Birds Walk opens with Edhi washing the children at one of the
organization’s hubs. Malnourished and skeletal, Edhi questions when was the
last time these children ate and then recalls that he hasn’t so much as had a
morsel of food in days. The poverty on display in These Birds Walk makes for one of the most relentlessly
overwhelming displays of miserablism captured on film - a constant visage of
people on the brink of death.
Directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq adhere to a fairly loose structure, wherein they follow the everyday routine of an ambulance driver for the Edhi Foundation. Routinely, Mullick and Tariq will capture moments of the runaway children conversing amongst each other, discussing why they ran away from home. At the Edhi home in Karachi, life is placed on hold. Children peer out the window waiting until they are picked up by their parents, of which they hope are looking for them. But as the children who have been waiting longer tell newcomers, it might take a while. For one, there’s the sense that perhaps their parents aren’t looking for them. As Pakistan faces political and economical collapse, the Edhi house is safer than Taliban-dominated territory. And then there are those parents who neglect or abuse their children. These runaways may simply be looking for a safe haven. In one of the picture’s many moments of unflinching honesty, a boy pleads with an ambulance driver to not take him home. His father beats him and fears that he will be beaten once again for running away. The conclusion of the sequence, where the boy reluctantly opens the rusty gate entrance to his home, evokes a feeling of complete hopelessness.
In the film’s final scene, a boy who has been in the Edhi shelter longer than any other is delivered home. He’s greeted by his brothers (one of whom roams the gravelly terrain in the nude) and his father who barely acknowledges the child. When the father is asked why he didn’t go looking for the child he merely looks at the land - a barren and decrepit community with a house with no electricity. He then inquires with the driver if there are any job openings with the Edhi foundation. But without the ability to read or write, the prospects of him garnering any sort of livable wage is unlikely.
The despair that courses through the images of These Birds Walk makes for one of the most inherently depressing and emotionally exhausting cinematic experiences I’ve had in some time. The seamless craft of the picture makes it even more difficult to fault, which has an immediate immersive quality and only adds to the increasing list of digitally-shot films that look just as good as any piece of film. But the heaviness of its subject- the utter hopelessness of it all - makes it one of those experiences that I admire but will never revisit.