Posted September 22nd, 2022 by Jim Read

Last night, we had the pleasure of welcoming the director/producer duo of the groundbreaking documentary ‘All That Breathes’, Shaunak Sen and Teddy Leifer, for our third New Shoots event of 2022 “How To Make An Award-winning Documentary”. ‘All That Breathes’ is set to hit UK cinemas on the 14th of October. Check here to see where you can find a screening.

You can watch the recording of the event below.


Shaunak Sen is a filmmaker and film scholar based in New Delhi, India. Cities of Sleep (2016), his first feature-length documentary, was shown at various major international film festivals (including DOK Leipzig, DMZ Docs and the Taiwan International Documentary Festival, among others) and won 6 international awards. Shaunak received the IDFA Bertha Fund (2019), the Sundance Documentary Grant (2019), the Catapult Film Fund (2020), the Charles Wallace Grant, the Sarai CSDS Digital Media fellowship (2014), and the Films Division of India fellowship (2013). He was also a visiting scholar at Cambridge University (2018) and has published academic articles in Bioscope, Widescreen and other journals.

Teddy Leifer founded Rise Films in 2006. Its award-winning productions include The Invisible War (Oscar® nominee and Emmy® winner), The Interrupters (Emmy® winner), Icarus (Oscar® winner), Knuckle (Sundance world premiere), Dreamcatcher (Sundance winner), We Are Together (Tribeca winner), Rough Aunties (Sundance winner), The Human Factor (Telluride world premiere), Mayor (Peabody winner) and The Art of Political Murder (executive produced by George Clooney).

Teddy’s latest feature, All That Breathes directed by Shaunak Sen is the only film ever to have won both the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Cannes Film Festival – where the film premiered in 2022. His other recent productions include George Carlin’s American Dream, a two-part documentary for HBO directed by Judd Apatow, which just received five Emmy nominations and Once Upon A Time In Londongrad, a timely political about 14 mysterious UK deaths with alleged Russia links.

Teddy was recently listed in the 100 most innovative and influential people in British creative and media industries; by the Guardian newspaper. He is a member of the Producers Guild of America and BAFTA.


All That Breathes is a beautifully poetic, observational documentary exploring the environmental landscape of a polluted Delhi, through the lens of two muslim brothers working to rescue injured birds in the city. When asked about his ideation process, Shaunak responded “I was only sure that I didn’t want to make a nature doc… or a political film.. I had this vague texture in my head.. We had the triangulation of bird, man and air. Over time what emerged was the relationship of these 2 brothers and the black kite, which served as a lens to think about … the poetry of the apocalyptic nature of Delhi.”


Producer Teddy Leifer and his production company, Rise Films, took a gamble after hearing Shaunak’s pitch as someone who’d only directed one other film prior to ‘All That Breathes’. Talking on what urged Teddy to take on ‘All That Breathes’, Teddy commented “What stood out to me about meeting Shaunak was the extent to which he really had a complete vision for the film… and he was able to talk about it with a high degree of fluency.”


Unlike the classic narrator-led documentarys we see televised daily, All That Breathes takes a step back, with the camera following the brothers and their experience, allowing the story to unfold for itself. Watching the film, it becomes apparent that artistic cinematography was going to integral to Shaunak’s approach. Shaunak explained “I knew I wanted to use the tools of fiction to tell a non-fiction story… I knew I wanted to use cranes, tracks and really slow langorous moments… I really wanted to do something that felt aesthetically gratifying and beautiful.”

Finding a great cinematographer was key, as Shaunak later elaborated “It took long, painful Zoom conversations before I was able to convince (DoP Ben Bernhard) to come to India. Find the DoP who you think is just right, and not the DoP who is a friend”.


Continuining on from Shaunak’s advice on favouring compatibility in production over your personal relationships: “There were no egos in the way. We were all thinking about how can we make this thing as good as it can possibly be. It’s not always that way… If we can just have an honest conversation about the film and how to make it as good as possible, we’re on safe ground.”


‘All That Breathes” approach to sound is minimalistic, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in the pitter patter of the animals, the low hum of the city and the candid conversations we get to witness. Shaunak iterated his distaste for composition in some films “I usually hate music that consolidates the emotions of the visual. If the two work together it’s usually not very interesting”. Instead, Shaunak dialed in on the diegetic elements: “The sound of skin and clothes rustling…is really important if you want to feel close to camera. For distance, remove this: (sound design) immediately accentuates what the focal length is doing”.


If you’re reading this as a documentary director, you sure as anything should watch the whole video, hell, if any of you are thinking of making a documentary, there’s so many things I can’t include in a brief write-up of the highlights.

Fundamentally, Shaunak’s nugget of advice was “Be open to the stuff that’s happening outside the frame of the camera and inside you, because everything is entangled.”

Whereas Teddy echoed “Recognise that time is your commodity. Try to spend it on things that are precious to you, and meaningful. Whether things go right or wrong, it’s time well spent. Never forget the element of luck, and if you don’t have it… sometimes it just doesn’t go your way and that’s ok”.

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