“Saroo Brierley: Homeward Bound” is a captivating short film from director duo henry/ssong that breaks your heart and pieces it together again through an incredible feat of determination and love. Contrary to the often dystopian perception of modern technology, this is a story showcasing its unbelievable, positive magic. A force that, rather than dividing, reunites and heals.
The story centers on Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy adopted and raised in Australia after getting lost on a train in the Calcutta slums at five years old. 25 years later with the help of Google Earth, Saroo manages to retrace his childhood steps all the way back to his birth mother’s front door. Moviegoers may recognize the plot from the Oscar-nominated film Lion, which followed Saroo’s incredible journey based on his memoir A Long Way Home.
Henry/ssong traveled to India to direct the film, and met with Saroo and his birth and adoptive families for interviews. “Once Google’s ground team in India helped us find the location and navigate through the dense explosion of senses that is Delhi, we took the guerrilla style documentary narrative filmmaking to heart. We filmed wherever we went, and captured the sights and sounds as truthfully as possible. We tried to live and breathe and reflect on what a bustling city would look and feel like to a little child. We wanted to give it a gentle aesthetic,” the duo say of the experience.
Trekking through the remote parts of the country proved challenging, and much like Saroo’s own journey, henry/ssong relied on word of mouth and luck to find Saroo’s mother’s home. “I remember arriving in the early hours when the sky was still inky black. When we finally got hold of the mother after being unable to find her the first numerous tries, a sense of calm rushed over all of us during filming. Despite the language barrier it was as though we were on the same frequency of life, in which no words needed to be spoken.”
“Everything from that shoot was free-flowing and open. We let the story take us to where we needed to go and lead us to the right places. The pieces were all there, our intentions were set, and the story fueled us. Having the ground support with us was tremendous help, and being able to experiment was what gave this film its character. It was an experience that taught us to be open-minded and to be brave enough to sometimes take the chance when the outcome seems uncertain.”
The film was featured as a primetime spot during the 89th Academy Awards, and has been featured in AdWeek’s “Top 10 Commercials of the Week,” Forbes’ “Top 20 Most Memorable Ads,” and as one of TED’s “10 Ads Worth Spreading” for 2014. Henry/ssong also picked up a Young Directors Award at Cannes and were shortlisted at the festival.