These Birds Walk: Film Review

Observational doc offers an intimate view of a huge Pakistani charity.

Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq observe a boy's stay in a Karachi children's home.

Observing one boy's encounter with Pakistan's largest social welfare charity, Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq's These Birds Walk is a socially conscious doc with the heart of a neorealist art film. Less concerned with its young subject's personal history or the workings of the organization that cares for him than with how he spends his days while in a home for runaways, the film captures some of the flavor of childhood in one of the world's least hospitable places. Though its likely audience is small, most who seek it out will be pleased.

Omar (this proves not to be his real name) is a boy who has run away from his family's home in Taliban country and finds himself in Karachi. He winds up entrusted to Asad, an ambulance driver who transports not only the injured and dead but kids like Omar. As he carries the boy to the Edhi Foundation's shelter for homeless children, he acknowledges that there's no leaving once they arrive; until his parents are found or come looking for him, he's under Edhi's care, like it or not.

Omar doesn't like it much. He and the friends he makes in this evidently shoestring-budgeted place are bored and sad, bonding over kid-philosophy conversations about God and what it means to be a man. The place was founded with around $50 by Abdul Sattar Edhi, whose group now runs over 300 centers throughout Pakistan; that story isn't told here, and our only exposure to Edhi is watching the elderly man give baths to malnourished-looking preschoolers.

We get a much better feel for Asad, whose own personal trials have become easier to bear since taking a job requiring daily encounters with others' suffering. (He recalls bringing a boy back to his ungrateful family recently and being told "better you brought back a corpse.")

Press materials report that the film took nearly three years to shoot, but the nicely lensed Birds is more atmospheric than literal. For all we know, it's only a month or two from the time Omar arrives and the midnight drive in which Asad, legitimately fearing for his safety, makes his way to the boy's village. "All my kids spend time at the Edhi Foundation," says an impoverished mother who clearly doesn't mind the free child care.

Directors: Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq

Producers: Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq, Valentina Canavesio, Sonejuhi Sinha

Executive producers: Daniel Berger, David Laub

Director of photography: Omar Mullick

Music: Todd Reynolds

Editor: Sonejuhi Sinha

No rating, 72 minutes