Babies are masters of the art of absorbing the world with all of their senses. In New Yorker’s documentary “Walking Before Walking”, director Adam Amir’s young son, Rumi, gazes at his surroundings, captivated. He runs his fingers through the pebbles and kelp. He coughs on a bite of the crumbled bark of an old Douglas-fir, then comes back for more.
After Rumi was born last year, Amir was eager to show him the world. The Vancouver-based filmmaker shot footage of wildlife in remote areas of Asia, Africa, Australia and the Arctic. It was only natural to bring his son with him as he ventured into the convenient, but still wild, landscapes of the coastal mountains of British Columbia.
As soon as Rumi was able to sit in a backpack, the two embarked on long hikes with the two family dogs. Amir began filming their travels, capturing mesmerizing footage of mist-covered mountain ridges, silvery waves lapping the shore, and moss-covered forests. While filming, he assimilated the changes brought about by parenthood. âHis arrival and the change in our lives was so overwhelming,â Amir told me. “Cinema has helped me explore these amazing new emotions of love and fear.”
The question of motivation preoccupies the film. Why take a vulnerable baby into nature, where dangers abound as much as beauty? Primal dangers like pumas coexist with prosaic dangers like cold temperatures and bad feet. In one scene, a creeping Rumi happily propels himself towards the waves. “Am I going with him, for him or in spite of him?” Amir asks. Like most motivational questions, Amir’s rarely have straightforward answers.
One reasoning he identifies is the desire to convey to his son a love and respect for the outdoors. âI’m taking him outside to teach him how to be outside. To make it as familiar, as everyday as anything and anywhere else, âAmir said.
The hikes also allow Amir to continue to pursue what he loves. Parenthood can erode the sense of self; time spent in nature keeps him connected to an important part of his pre-parental identity. Amir fears that this is selfish – “a way of persisting in my own needs and wants while neglecting his own”. But heading for the desert is an itch he has to scratch.
As the film progresses, the seasons pass in crystal-clear glimpses – winter snow falls silent, spring cherry blossoms emerge. At the same time, Rumi is growing up. His eyes become more alert; his movements show his growing agency. âI wanted to create a time capsule for Rumi, little snippets of his life that he won’t remember,â Amir told me. âOver time, I realized that I was starting to capture time: the seasonal changes in the forest, the growth of the baby, the change in myself. As his son changed daily, Amir also documented the changes around them.
The more Rumi learns, the more complicated the lessons become. Canada is grappling with the recent discoveries of massive unmarked graves of Indigenous children. “Walking Before Walking” is filmed on the unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. Amir wonders how to tell the stories of the earth in a respectful way. âThis story brings even greater pain and horror now that we have a child. Nothing matters more to me than keeping him healthy, happy and safe from harm, âAmir said. For him, raising a child means sharing his values ââand his way of life. âThat’s all this video is about: sharing our culture with our baby and thinking about what to share and how to share it. “