A Noble Pursuit Takes Flight
Lofty notions are often seen as impractical and unrealistic. And, indeed, they’re frequently looked upon as impossible to implement given their staggering requirements and essential commitment. But that’s not to say that they can’t be accomplished with the right amount of determination and a strong faith in the possibility of their fulfillment. One such instance is aptly and beautifully chronicled in the uplifting new documentary, “All That Breathes” (web site, trailer).
The Indian capital of New Delhi is a city beset by an array of challenges. With an urban population of 11 million and another 17 million in its adjacent Delhi capital district, it’s the world’s second largest metropolitan area. And, with so many people packed into such a concentrated area, the city and its surroundings suffer from environmental issues, most notably its suffocating air quality, which the World Health Organization designated as the worst on the planet in 2014. This has led to severe health problems – particularly those of a respiratory nature – for many of its residents. But it doesn’t end there; it has also seriously impacted the city’s animal population, especially its birds (most notably its large flocks of black kites), who often become so impaired while in flight that they literally fall out of the sky.
In addition to these environmental issues, the Delhi region has increasingly become prone to civil unrest, with both demonstrations and street violence, often of a political and/or religious nature. The threats posed by these events often make life difficult for the locals, with protecting one’s personal safety and well-being becoming the top priorities. Indeed, with such immediately pressing matters necessarily taking precedence, it’s frequently impossible for many to be concerned with virtually anything else.
But those conditions don’t stop everyone from trying to make their city a more habitable place for both man and animal alike. That’s where the noble efforts of two committed brothers come into play. Since 2003, Nadeem Shehzad and his younger sibling, Mohammad Saud, have devoted their lives to the care and protection of Delhi’s ill and injured bird population (primarily kites) through a makeshift avian clinic in their building’s basement. In that time, they and their colleague, Salik Rehman, who joined their efforts in 2017, have nursed 20,000 kites back to health.
The lengths that these Samaritans go to in aiding their feathered friends are often quite astounding. As the film shows, they’ll engage in such actions as wading across bodies of water to rescue incapacitated birds, efforts that sometimes even put their own safety at risk. What’s more, considering the volume of birds under treatment at any given time, the wounded ones often occupy much of the available space in the brothers’ building. But it’s that kind of dedication that led to their establishment of Wildlife Rescue, an organization devoted to this cause. And this work didn’t go unnoticed by officials; for his efforts, Nadeem was recently appointed an Honorary Wildlife Warden of Delhi. He also honed his skills further in 2021, when he spent three months in the U.S. receiving training with bird rescue organizations.
When there are so many challenges affecting us on a daily basis – especially in a city battling escalating social unrest and ongoing environmental issues – it may seem unfathomable that anyone could, or would want or be able to, spend time, energy and effort on an easily dismissed cause like bird rescue. But the trio working on this project clearly possesses an enlightened vision to view the bigger picture importance of this endeavor, employing a wider perspective. In times like these, strange as it may seem to some, such individuals are just as valuable to the continued existence of our world as anyone working on the front lines to address what are thought to be its most immediately pressing problems. Without those willing to take on challenges like these, there’s no telling where we might be headed in the long run.
Still, even with that knowledge, one might legitimately wonder why anyone would take up a task like this, especially since it’s one that may not attract wider attention, something that might also be accompanied by issues like a lack of support and, to keep it going, a lack of funding. Yet the brothers and their colleague carry on nonetheless, because they believe its goals can be fulfilled. And those beliefs are important, for they drive the process of what ultimately manifests. It’s unclear whether Mohammed, Nadeem and Salik have ever heard of this school of thought, but, given their success, it’s quite apparent that they’ve mastered its principles and employed them to make their aspirations come true.
Perhaps the most important belief at work here is the rescuers’ conviction that everything is connected, both with humanity and all that resides in its surrounding environment. They take the view that the birds are just as vital to our existence as we are and that, consequently, they’re just as worthy of care and nurturing as we are when injured. This viewpoint is, arguably, broader than that held by many humans, taking into account an appreciation for everything that legitimately resides within our world. When such an understanding is embraced and employed, it demonstrates a degree of inclusiveness and compassion that a reality with so many innate problems must have if it’s to survive and thrive going forward. The trio of Samaritans here see the rich and diverse tapestry of our existence – and the need for each and every strand of it to be preserved and cared for lest it unravel into a collection of disconnected threads.
This is particularly true where the kites are concerned, as they are a bird of prey that’s essential to the proper functioning of the ecosystem. Their preservation is crucial if a harmonious balance is to be maintained in the environment. Were it not for them, the streets of New Delhi could well be vastly overrun with all manner of vermin, making an often-challenged ecosystem even more difficult to endure for all the creatures – man and animal – that inhabit its environs.
Practical considerations aside, however, the rescuers carry out their mission for an even more vital purpose – because it’s the right thing to do. Nadeem, Mohammed and Salik have a profound reverence for their world and everything in it, and they’re doing their part so that said sacredness is maintained. This is their destiny, the act of being their best truest selves for the betterment and welfare of themselves and everyone around them. And, based on what’s shown in this film, it’s apparent they’ve lived up to every bit of that ambition.
In an age where selfishness has run roughshod over selflessness, it’s comforting to know that there are those out there who have not succumbed to these troubling circumstances. And, thankfully, evidence of this is generously served up in director Shaunak Sen’s poetic, gorgeously filmed documentary. The film is positively beautiful to look at and does tremendous justice to the dedication and compassion of these wildlife Samaritans. In doing so, the filmmaker offers poignant observations about the connections that bind all of us – both man and animal – to one another, despite whatever petty squabbles or secular considerations might attempt to get in the way, augmented by thoughtful voiceovers, a beautiful, atmospheric score, and stunning cinematography, particularly in its close-up footage of the black kites as they’re so lovingly nursed back to health. A few segments drag a bit, especially with their inclusion of a little too much needless incidental footage, but, if that’s the picture’s greatest failing, there’s really little to otherwise fault in this widely decorated release. This is the kind of film that beckons us to heed that age-old advice about taking time to stop and smell the proverbial roses – and to teach us all how to take flight as the truly concerted, humane individuals we’re capable of being.
“All That Breathes” has certainly garnered its share of recognition in the time since its release. The film captured the 2022 Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema – Documentary category and the Cannes Film Festival’s Golden Eye Award, as well as being named one of the year’s Top 5 Documentaries by the National Board of Review. It also received nominations as best documentary feature at the Oscars, the BAFTA Awards and the Independent Spirit Awards. That’s quite a haul for a film with subject matter such as this. The film is available for streaming online.
The world could certainly use more individuals like the Samaritans depicted in this film. In fact, if we had as many people committed to projects like bird rescue as we do who are ready to engage in manmade conflicts, chaos and calamities, we would certainly find ourselves living in a very different world. That’s not to suggest such an outcome is unattainable, but it has to start with our beliefs – and changing them to pursue these goals instead of those pointless endeavors that so many are willing to take up. Now there’s an idea that could truly take off. And maybe, with an example to emulate like the one shown here, perhaps someday it will.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
A Trifecta of Oscar Coverage!
With the 95th Academy Awards now in the books, it’s time to take a final look back on Hollywood’s biggest honors. Check out my three blogs on the subject, including my projected winners (and how I arrived at those decisions), my scorecard on how I did and my assessment of the Oscar telecast (and what can be done to make it better). And let me know your thoughts about Tinsel Town’s big night. Email me at email@example.com.
Stepping Out on One’s Own
Stepping up to the forefront to establish oneself as a readily identifiable quantity can be a daunting prospect. There may be a temptation to hold back, buying into the notion that there’s safety in numbers. But will such a cautious approach get us noticed or, more importantly, leave us feeling fulfilled? Those are among the issues raised in the delightful new LGBTQ+ comedy, “Chrissy Judy” (web site, trailer).
Chrissy Snowkween (Wyatt Fenner) and Judy Blewhim (Todd Flaherty) are a drag queen sister act – and not a terribly successful one, either. But, in many ways, that doesn’t really matter to them. When they’re not performing in little-known clubs in New York and on Fire Island, the besties party their way across Gotham and its environs, living a life of fun and frolic. They have a great time together, despite their dismal reviews, woeful booking history and virtually nonexistent income stream, forcing them into taking day jobs to make ends meet. But that’s OK, given that they have one another, their devoted friendship sustaining them through the seemingly endless lean times.
That all changes, however, after a disappointing Fire Island gig, when Chrissy announces she’s relocating to Philadelphia to move in with her boyfriend, Shawn (Kiyon Spencer). While Judy wants the best for her stage sister and running mate, she’s quietly stunned by this revelation, wondering what it means for the future of their act and their uninhibited social life. So, as Chrissy moves on to discover her destiny in the City of Brotherly Love, Judy is left behind in the Big Apple, trying to figure out what’s next.
Judy struggles to launch a solo act, but it fares poorly, making her routine with Chrissy look like an unqualified smash by comparison. She subsequently seeks to bolster her career by cozying up to her friend Samoa (James Tison), a well-connected LGBTQ+ community influencer, in hopes that he can help her land performance jobs that will raise her profile. Of course, being the fussbudget that he is, Samoa attaches strings to his offer of assistance, most notably that Judy refrain from interfering with any of his prospective sexual dalliances, particularly the possibilities pending with Marcus (Joey Taranto), a bona fide hunk who Judy met previously at one of her shows. The temptation turns out to be too great for Judy to contain, leading to a flirtation with Marcus that Samoa witnesses, quickly bringing the influencer’s offer of help to an end.
In the wake of this disappointment, Judy seeks solace in her social life, primarily in her efforts to secure the company of men. Marcus is at the top of that list, but Judy quickly finds that hormones alone are a pale substitute for genuine companionship. So, given her lack of professional success and personal fulfillment, as well as being without the companionship of her BFF, Judy feels lonesome and adrift.
That void is seemingly filled, however, when Chrissy invites Judy to Philadelphia for a visit. The reunion of besties starts out well, but trouble emerges when Judy begins engaging in unbridled sniping, criticizing Chrissy’s choices regarding her friends, her partner and her new lifestyle, not to mention her decision to “abandon” their act in favor of what Judy sees as an uninspired, mediocre, compromised existence. So much for the “forever” in BFF.
With the foundation of her life effectively demolished, Judy is left without a clue about where to turn next, especially when her roommate, Jessica (Nicole Spiezio), informs her that she’s behind on rent and issues an ultimatum. It’s at that point, when the last straw finally falls, that Judy takes a radical step: She decides to move to Provincetown, MA, the premier LGBTQ+ summertime resort, taking a job as a housekeeper at one of the town’s many gay guest houses. It’s a place of refuge for Judy, removing her from all of the influences that no longer serve her and providing her with an opportunity to work on developing her solo drag queen act, one that she rolls out at some of the local performance venues.
So will Judy’s decision prove fruitful? Can she become the solo performer she dreams about? Will she be able to stand on her own, both personally and professionally? And will this provide her with the satisfaction she seeks to lead a fulfilling life? That’s a lot to hope for, but that doesn’t mean it’s unattainable, provided we put our minds to it.
Putting our minds to it, of course, begins with the beliefs we hold about ourselves, our lives and our possibilities, for they play a key role in the manifestation of the existence we experience, for better or worse. It’s unclear whether Judy has ever heard of this school of thought, but, based on how circumstances unfold in her life, it would seem she has developed a good handle on its principles.
In Judy’s case, this doesn’t come about on the first try. It’s a process of trial and error, implementing different sets of beliefs to see which ones work and which ones don’t. In the end, it comes down to hitting on those that best reflect our true selves, materializing as outward expressions of what we think, feel and believe deep down inside our consciousness. It may take some time to discover what those beliefs are, but, when we do, it’s like hitting a proverbial home run, enabling us to become who we were meant to be and fulfilling the destiny we were meant to live out.
For Judy, to a great degree, that means stepping out on her own, both literally and metaphorically. For the longest time, she saw herself necessarily tied to Chrissy. It’s almost as if she felt compelled to be part of a duo, that she somehow couldn’t function on her own, both socially and as a performer. There could be any number of reasons for this, but insecurity and a lack of confidence most readily come to mind. And, if those qualities were adequately backed by beliefs making that possible, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that they would manifest externally.
This helps to explain why Judy and Chrissy ultimately had to part ways. No matter how much affinity and affection they may have had for one another, Chrissy was holding Judy back, and Judy allowed this scenario to hold sway. It kept her from not only moving forward with her life, but also from even tapping into the beliefs that would have made personal and professional progress possible.
In a sense, the same could be said for Judy holding back Chrissy from getting on with her life. Considering Chrissy’s devoted relationship with Shawn, she was obviously meant to lead a more settled, domestic existence than to continue as a hard-partying, unsuccessful drag queen. But Chrissy’s ongoing involvement with Judy was preventing that change from happening, and continuing to run the streets couldn’t go on forever if she were to fulfill that cherished dream. When Chrissy at last decided to pursue that new existence, she had to have changed her beliefs to make it possible, regardless of whatever consequences that may have had for her friendship with Judy.
However, Chrissy’s decision – no matter how selfish it may have seemed to Judy – simultaneously provided Judy with the nudge she needed to change tracks in her beliefs. The same is true for what happened in her dealings with Samoa, Marcus and Jessica, all of whom put up roadblocks to keep Judy from staying on paths that likely would have proved unsuccessful in the long run. These disappointments and setbacks – as trying as they may have been – ultimately helped Judy stay focused on getting what she truly wanted.
These developments, in turn, prompted Judy to make the right decisions – both in terms of her beliefs and actions – with regard to eliminating any fears and limitations that were holding her back. Her decisions to rid herself of these obstacles not only removed these hindrances, but they also helped empower her in her convictions. That’s essential to realizing our goals, and we’re likely to be grateful to ourselves for developing that talent on our way to achieving those objectives. As Judy so aptly illustrates for us, it’s enough to make us want to break into song.
Are BFFs really forever? We might like to think so, but, given the inevitability of change, such permanence might be an illusion, especially when we realize that it can hinder us in fulfilling the dreams we hold dear. Such is the kind of high drama that unfolds in this deliciously funny debut feature from writer-director Todd Flaherty. The film’s crisp screenplay, gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and fine performances by its excellent ensemble cast combine to make for a compelling, enjoyable watch, a project that in many ways plays like a gay version of a Woody Allen film. It touches on themes that many offerings in the LGBTQ+ genre seldom explore, such as gay male friendships, personal responsibility and living life outside the club scene. Also, while the picture includes many familiar gay community elements, it successfully avoids presenting them as clichés and stereotypes, often by taking those recognizable components and turning them on their ear. This delightful release proved to be a very pleasant surprise and my favorite offering from the 2022 Reeling International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, as well as one of my favorite pictures of the year.
Unfortunately, “Chrissy Judy” has yet to receive widespread release, which may make it somewhat difficult to find at this time. The picture has primarily played at LGBTQ+ film festivals, but it genuinely deserves wider distribution. Should you have an opportunity to screen this release, please do. It’s a fun and inspiring watch, especially for those seeking to fulfill their dreams.
Standing in the shadows can enable us to feel protected under potentially threatening circumstances. But it can also keep us from being seen, a definite drawback for those who choose goals that call for them to be squarely in the limelight. This may require some difficult choices, such as letting go of things – like relationships – that potentially hold us back. But, if we truly believe in these dreams, these are the necessary steps we must take. And, when we examine the payoffs that come from such decisions, we’re likely to look back on them as wise choices that take us to where we wanted to be. And that’s anything but a drag.
A complete review is available by clicking here.
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