On the Tibetan Plateau in Western China, the material culture of a rapidly modernizing society clashes with the customs and practices of a rich spiritual tradition. The differences between Chinese secularity and the deep faith of Buddhist Tibetans are pronounced. In this film about sky burial — a sacred ritual where the bodies of the Tibetan dead are fed to wild griffon vultures — these differences are starkly portrayed.
Just as The Cove (Mountainfilm 2009) exposed the tragic slaughtering of the dolphins of Taiji, Emptying the Skies serves European migratory songbirds with a similar purpose. Fighting the good fight against the poachers who slaughter the birds to sell to chefs are fearless activists and the novelist Jonathan Franzen, a devoted amateur ornithologist whose story in The New Yorker inspired this documentary by brothers Douglas and Roger Kass.