By Jon Straub

Photo Courtesy of True/False Film Fest

In a region that many associate with conflict and violence, These Birds Walk shows a far more intimate view of some of the turmoil in Pakistan. Of course, this view doesn’t come from the places you’d suspect. Co-directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq wanted to appeal to the humanity of the audience and make them see a different side of this region.

The story is never narrated, but rather allows the words and views of its subjects to intimately connect with the audience. Much of the story is shown through the eyes of the children of a Pakistani orphanage run by the Edhi Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization that offers anything from emergency services to mental habitats. Many of these children are runaways and look to the orphanage as a way to find a kind of freedom from the lives they left behind.

However, that freedom would seem odd to many, as most of the kids’ time is spent in a single long hallway with barred windows and doors. They entertain themselves with the stone benches that line the hallway or by slapping one another on the head during their daily prayers. These playful fights between the boys are common throughout the film, but on more than one occasion they turn into serious scuffles.

Omar, a young boy at the orphanage, is the central character for much of the film. Early on he displays a dislike for his parents and demonstrates his faith in God. He is also the most physical of any of the boys. His constant punching and slapping of his friend Shehr initially is shown as a form of affection, but later his attitude toward the rest of the boys becomes that of frustration when Shehr leaves the orphanage.

A story like Omar’s is all too common among the boys in the orphanage. Many left home to find a better life, but a few of the boys do return home, Omar included. They have found their life at home hard, but they soon find out how much they miss it during their time at the orphanage.

Asad, an ambulance driver that works in the Edhi Foundation, is made responsible for bringing some of the boys home. Through these scenes, the audience catches a glimpse of the poor economic state of the country and even the sluggish nature of some of the ambulance drivers. Many of them complain about the poor pay, but few actually want to do their own work.

The founder of the Edhi Foundation, Abdul Sitar Edhi, has led his life trying to do good for others. His time in the film is short, but he helps show the spirit and drive of what his organization attempts to do for the country. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the greatest means to help these people, and the government’s lack of support doesn’t help either.

For a film that the directors feel is still a “work in progress,” These Birds Walk feels anything but incomplete. Each scene builds a tension and frustration for the situation of these children and the citizens of Pakistan that weighs down on the viewer. There were laughs, there were gasps, and few could say the film didn’t touch them. Mullick and Tariq were successful in their goal of touching the humanity of those who viewed it.

Vox Rating: VVV

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