February 22, 2023

Oscar-nominated documentary All That Breathes cinematographers Ben Bernhard and Riju Das

All That Breathes follows the story of two brothers in New Delhi, India who run a home-based bird sanctuary dedicated to caring for black kites. Black kites are a common bird of prey in the city and have adapted well to living alongside humans. But as the pollution and toxic garbage in New Delhi increases, the kites, as well as other birds, fall ill from smog and other hazards in the urban environment. Muslim brothers Saud and Nadeem, along with their friend Salik, found a passion for caring for birds as kids and it seems like a thankless job as they apply for funding to expand their work.

Director Shaunak Sen worked with cinematographers Ben Bernhard and Riju Das to simply follow and capture the brother’s day-to-day life, and emphasize the interconnectedness of all things within a busy urban place like New Delhi. DP Ben Bernhard wanted to show the coexistence of all the animals in the city and create a perspective for the audience to see things down at their level. In fact, All That Breathes opens on a nest of rats living in a traffic circle in the city, right at a rat’s-eye view. Cows, pigs, and monkeys also live alongside the people, just like the kites, and adapt to their surroundings. Cinematographer Riju Das recalls carefully getting closeups of ants and a bottle full of mosquito larvae. The whole team was rigorous and meditative about taking the time to capture the beauty of urban wildlife in the city, and they would pick up the camera to shoot any animals where they found them. They utilized long, slow pans, a narrow depth of field and extreme close-ups of animals throughout.

All That Breathes is currently available on HBOMax and is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Find cinematographer Ben Bernhard: Instagram @ben_bernhard
Find cinematographer Riju Das: Instagram @eyeris_4

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