The Monday evening after Spring Break, I walked into Sci 101 to see a loose crowd quietly waiting for the documentary screening event of These Birds Walk. The event is part of a new speaker series called “Reflections from the Field.”
The event started with a short introduction to the filmmaker Omar Mullick who stood humbly and quite casually at the front of the room. After his introduction, he quickly dismissed the credentials game, as he called it, that speakers usually play and promote.
“I’m not going to stand here and list all my success stories,” said Mullick, “especially in front of broke college students.”
He made a hand gesture, like drinking brandy with his pinky up, as he mocked his own list of impressive credentials.
“Blah, blah, blah,” said Mullick as he flicked his hand up.
Let’s be real, he seemed to say. Mullick’s keen dismissal of the pomposity that often shrouds impressive speakers here at Swarthmore made him likeable from the start. He was here to share and discuss his work, not to awe us.
The backdrop of the documentary is the work of the Edhi Foundation in Pakistan. The foundation was started by Abdul Sattar Edhi who, in Pakistan, is a humanitarian icon. The word Edhi is almost synonymous with an “SOS” cry. His philanthropic efforts are extremely expansive, and he runs the largest ambulance network in Pakistan. The documentary centers around the story of a young boy, Omar, who was in Edhi’s runaway shelters, and an ambulance driver who later sends the boy back to his parents. The camera closely followed Omar and his friends, and showcased intimate moments of their yearning, arguments, and pains.
Rida Hassan ’18, from Pakistan, shared her own respect for the Edhi Foundation, and also her recognition of the significance of the film in its portrayal of the foundation.
“The film really speaks to the tireless effort and unwavering commitment of the Edhi Foundation to uplifting those in need. Its position as an unparalleled system of social welfare in Pakistan is recognized by everyone,” said Hassan, “The film is a much needed reminder of the blood, sweat and tears of everyone who works to make it what it is.”
Audience members did not expect such a raw and intimate experience. Hassan commented that she was both surprised and delighted by the fact that the documentary was not overly analytical or say, a briefing on the ‘situation in Pakistan’ as one would expect.
“I was… super excited to watch a film based in my city and interested to see how it portrayed Karachi and wider Pakistani society. And I think that’s where the surprise factor came in – the film is unequivocally not a commentary,” said Hassan.
The documentary, rather, was an artistic depiction of lives in a different context. Pavan Kalindindi ’19, a film major, was inspired by the choices and tools Mullick used and commented on the beauty of Mullick’s film.
“I think what I loved most about the documentary is that it was human and pure, [Mullick] managed to remain invisible throughout the film while telling such an incredible story as he put in effort to make the subjects comfortable with him filming them,” said Kalindindi.
Mullick himself comments on this at the end during his discussion, as his two young children came in and joined us.
“Someone asked in the beginning if maybe I wanted to add statistics in the beginning,” said Mullick, “but that detracts from it!”
It was clear that Mullick’s mission wasn’t just to bring light to the work of the Edhi Foundation or even to give us a sense of the dire circumstances that these children face, rather, his goal was to invoke empathy among audience members who have little to do with boys like Omar.
Mullick spoke passionately, and his down-to-earth nature allowed us as audience members to connect with him. Seeing him interact with his young daughter, as she climbed up on him giving him kisses between discussion questions, gave us a sense that he was someone who believed in the value of close human interaction that is portrayed in his documentary.
“He was passionate when talking about his experience and work and constantly referred to his inspirations,” said Kalindindi, “It was inspiring to have him.”
The discussion ended on a question from the audience asking what the title represented. Mullick chuckled, scratched his head and told us that he preferred to leave it up to interpretation.