Unbroken Glass News & Updates

Unbroken Glass to broadcast premiere on America ReFramed May 16, 8PM

unspecified-6Unbroken Glass by director Dinesh Sabu will have its U.S. Television Premiere on Tuesday, May 16 at 8PM EST on WORLD Channel as part of the new season of public media’s America ReFramed.

The film will be available for free streaming following the broadcast at worldchannel.org starting on May 17th. America ReFramed is a documentary series dedicated to highlighting intimate stories by emerging and veteran filmmakers who are chronicling an ever-changing America.

Unbroken Glass will screen at the Chicago Cultural Center on April 15 at 2PM, presented by WTTW and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Events. Dinesh will participate in a post-screening discussion with Michael Bushman of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Dr. Seeba Anam, professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago.

Coming up, the film screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in the Competition Documentaries category on May 1 at 7PM, before screening in Chicago, IL, Rochester, NY, Skokie, IL, and Portland, OR. Find a full list of upcoming screenings here.

WTTW will broadcast Unbroken Glass on Thursday, May 18 at 9PM.

Unbroken Glass screens in Naperville as part of the Changemaker Series!

On November 19 at 3pm, UNBROKEN GLASS was screened as part of the Changemakers Series at Edward Hospital in Naperville. The event was sponsored by E3 Entrepreneurs and Linden Oaks and in partnership with the Buzruk Family, Indian Harvest and SAAPRI. After playing at film festivals across the country, it was great to be back in the Chicagoland area showing the film in front of an enthusiastic diverse audience including many South Asian community leaders!

“I hope that telling my family’s story will raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental illness, while at the same time empower suicide survivors and families of the mentally ill to share their stories,” said filmmaker, Dinesh Das Sabu. “It’s been a long road—living through these events and the filmmaking process—but I’m very proud that it’s done, and excited to meet an audience with it.”

Amit Thaker, Director of Business Development of Linden Oaks Behaviorial Health,  commented on why it was so important to show the film to the community: “Ironically, the same qualities that have marked South Asians’ successful immigration experience – an outward projection of emotional resilience, a relentless work ethic, a strong drive to assimilate – further complicate how they deal with mental health issues that arise in their families. My personal belief is there is no inherent value in silence, no valor in pretending that we’re never hurt, no shame in reaching for help. We as a society need to collectively admit the illusion of perfection can be a danger to our mental health.”

The founder of the Changemaker Series, Saily Joshi, stated:  “The Changemakers Series was started to invite individuals who are changemakers in their disciplines or fields and who would influence us to think a different way, learn something new or expand our mindset.

The core of Changemakers centers around the concept that in order for each one of us to continue to grow as individuals we must be ready to have courageous conversations with others from different walks of life and those who have had different experiences then our own. We were honored to screen UNBROKEN GLASS, a documentary that embodies all these elements.  Showing this documentary which highlights the stigma behind mental illness in the South Asian community is only the first step.  We know have the responsibility to all become ambassadors to break down that stigma.”

Dinesh attended the screening and, afterwards, participated in a lively Q&A discussion moderated by Mr. Thaker. During a post-screening reception, attendees had the opportunity to talk with Dinesh one-on-one and many shared their own stories. Thanks to Saily for organizing such a wonderful screening!

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The. Film. Is. Complete.

Later this week we’ll be announcing some good news about film festivals. After about seven years, the film is done.

It’s hard to describe what finishing this film feels like. If this was my second or third film I would at least have something to compare it to. But as a first film, and one so deeply personal, there is no experience quite like it.

My friends and family are all relieved. I’ve spent the past year saying, “we’re almost done,” so much so that I think they stopped believing me. But we were! We had a fine cut, then picture lock, then a sound mix, then color correction. Turns out the journey from editorially finished to technically finished is longer than I thought.

Looking back on these past few years has been a strange exercise. I used to complain a lot. We have a lot of footage of me speaking at length about wanting the film to be finished. I would remark to people in private about how I started making this film at the age when the enormity of these events were beginning to soften their hold on me. The film was some perverse way of getting re-entangled with all of the trauma and confusion of my childhood, this time as an adult, as a artist. I would imagine the freedom and clarity of having this film—and these events—behind me and long for that day.

And now that day has come. We have had opportunities to screen the film with small preview audiences, and I’m reminded of why I made the film.

It’s a strange ensemble of emotions playing right now. The excitement of meeting an audience; pride and relief in having finished it; trepidation in how it might be received.

A few people have asked me if it was worth it. If I’m honest, I can’t unequivocally say yes. I can say that I’ve reached some kind of peace with the events in my past and in the film. It’s hard to know if that was because of the filmmaking process, or if it was just the normal mellowing out that happens in one’s twenties. I can’t disentangle the two. Making this film will always be a part of my past, as much a part of who I am as the events I tried to address in the film itself.

Regardless, the film is done, I’m very proud of it, and I hope that by making it, it will do some good in this world.

I want to take a moment to thank everyone for their support along the way. We’ll be posting news about festivals and other screenings soon. So please check back here or follow us on Facebook.

Recent Funding Gets Us Closer

We’re excited to announce support from the Sage Foundation as well as an Individual Artist Award from The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The grants, totaling $30,000, will allow us to continue working towards a fine cut of the film, expected to be complete later this year. Stay tuned for more information as we get closer and closer!

More information about the grants can be found here.

The Anniversary

Twenty-two years ago today, my father died in Jaipur, India, on the last day of Diwali.  His children and wife were halfway around the world in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

I should preface all of this by telling you how tremendously ambivalent I’ve been writing about today. Making a personal doc, it’s tough to decide what’s off limits in your life. In some ways, nothing really is, especially with material like Unbroken Glass—trauma that has colored a lot of how I lived and viewed my life. At what point can I put the camera down, tell the crew and my editor to fuck off, and just have some time to myself? Part of me wanted to spend today like that, and not write about it or even capture anything about it on film.

Originally the word “anniversary” was especially meant to describe the date of someone’s death. It doesn’t take too much imagination to kind of figure out why that might be. I think when you’re contemplating your own death, the worst thing that you can conceive of is being forgotten. Similarly, when you have a loved one who has died, the worst thing you can imagine is forgetting them. Designating the day that they died annually as a way to remember them doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

It also happens to be the day that everything changed, yet another reason you don’t want to forget it. This is the event, the inciting incident. His death was what started this whole mess. Simply put, if he didn’t die, my mom probably wouldn’t have committed suicide, and I’d have grown up with parents. When I was younger I spent too much time beating my head on what had happened, what might have been if it hadn’t. This is the process, I guess, of wrapping your head around trauma. That matured into the tiny melancholy of observing today the lack of a father.

I realize that anniversaries are overly sentimental affairs, perhaps by design. In the documentary, I’ve engaged in real nostalgia, over-sentimentality, and self-pity in degrees that were perhaps unhealthy and indulgent. It was what I needed at the time. In crafting the film, I realize that too much sentimentality is not something I’m really interested in, (perhaps in art in general), it lacks a kind of relevance outside its own emotional weight. Sentimentality, outside of the handful of people who are touched by it, is simply emotion for the sake of emotion. I worry that it simply inspires pity and nothing more, no compassion or understanding.

That being said, over the last few years, I think I’ve been searching for some kind of significance to this date outside of the weight of its own trauma. The first few decades were just processing, but lately I’ve been striving for some kind of meaning. That might be the ultimate goal, the legacy of Unbroken Glass.

I remember a few years ago I consciously decided that I would spend this date more as a celebration than as something mournful. The idea was to celebrate Dwarka Das Sabu’s legacy more than the lack of Dwarka Das Sabu. The family he started in this country, the people his life touched. I see my dad as someone who grabbed life, got all kinds of shit started, and then got grabbed by life. He kicked up all of this creation: my siblings and me, his career, all on these shores halfway around the world. The fact that he didn’t get to see it through is sad, but we’re here to play out all of this great stuff he got into. The stuff of life, I suppose.

Recently I was in Albuquerque to liberate some old photographs for the documentary. I put most of them in a suitcase, about 40 pounds worth of disorganized photos from my past and beyond.

Somehow one of them must have found its way into my bag, and it slipped out the other morning. Probably from the early seventies, my parents are more or less the age that I am currently. They’re my peers in this photograph.

One thing that has been happening lately is my ability to conceive of both of them as people, human beings with desires, hopes, and flaws. I look at this picture of my dad and mom, and I want them to be like old friends. I want to be able to go over to their apartment and drink some beer with them and talk about their lives, maybe play some bridge.

The anniversary really just starts today. I’ve always kind of marked the progression of the month from today’s date to that date in early December when my mother passed away. There’s something comforting about the fact that it’s in the months of November and December, as autumn passes into winter. Lately the observation of these anniversaries has taken a more abstract tone, watching the seasons pass, thinking about death and time, and observing my own life and its march into the future.

Recently, I was compelled to pick up some Kahlil Gibran, a Lebanese-American poet whose battered volume of The Prophet I can remember vividly from my father’s bookshelf. There’s a passage that I’m struck by today:

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.

Under the Microscope: Lessons In Personal Doc Filmmaking From The Outsider’s POV

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Patrick Lile, co-producer of Unbroken Glass.  I’ve been working with Dinesh on his film since May 2012.  From time to time I’ll take to this space to reflect on my own experiences of making the film, sometimes touching on my unique position of collaborating with a person who is both filmmaker and protagonist.

Personally, I hate having my picture taken.  In fact, I’ve been told that for being a decently attractive person, I’m downright ugly in photos.  It’s true and I’m okay with it because hopefully it dissuades photographers from taking any additional photos.   I suppose I’m a bit hypocritical because I do enjoy taking photos and video. I don’t want to be analyzed, I want to do the analyzing.  The person who holds the camera has the power to show the subject however they see fit.  Considering that, I sometimes wonder why people ever agree to participate in documentaries?  Yes, I suppose the answer is to highlight a cause or a message, but to be under that microscope for weeks, months and years at a time takes its toll.  I’ve seen the mounting toll while shooting Unbroken Glass, as Dinesh plays the dual role of being subject and filmmaker.  By turning the camera upon himself, Dinesh has not only been put in a position where he must self-analyze, but he has trusted myself, editor Matt Lauterbach, and cinematographer Ian Kibbe to challenge his boundaries and serve as the microscope.

Yet, over the course of collaborating with Dinesh on Unbroken Glass, my instincts sometimes have led me down a road that he didn’t want to take.  Maybe I was prying too much or maybe he knew the answers weren’t engaging enough to pursue, but by working with the main protagonist of a documentary who just so happens to also be the director, it has forced me to reevaluate all director/subject relationships. In some of the documentary classes I have taught, I have stressed to my students the importance of documentary ethics, the fine balance you need to strike with the subjects that you are making a film about.  Sticking a camera into someone’s personal life is anything but natural and the definitive “Miss Manners Guide To How To Treat Your Doc Subjects” has yet to be written (note to self – write Miss Manners Guide To How To Treat Your Doc Subjects).  But at the end of the day, we are people first and filmmakers second (except for Werner Herzog, he’s is actually a cyborg first.)

The most generic answer of why I wanted to work on Unbroken Glass is to gain the experience of co-producing a feature documentary, a Kartemquin film to boot.    However, the more time I spend with theUnbroken Glass footage, re-writing treatments, and getting to know the Sabu family, a career opportunity has become a personal project for me as well.  I will never know what Dinesh and his family have gone through, but I know my own family has a shit ton of shit that we should talk about that we never will.  Resentment, blame, divorce, trauma, divorce again, every family in the world has their own baggage.  It might be Dinesh under the microscope, but recently as I sat across from him unloading a series of questions with a camera just over my left shoulder, the questions I asked felt very autobiographical.  I dug in deep about Dinesh’s parents’ marriage, his relationship with his siblings, and closing in on this thirtieth birthday.  The specifics are unique to the Sabus, but the problems are universal.

In my own films, I’ve had some experience capturing a subject when they were showing signs of breaking down. One time early on, I brought one of the toughest men I ever met to tears, I quietly told my cameraman, “Okay.  Enough. Cut.”  However, his instincts as a cameraman were to unknowingly keep rolling and have me decide what to do with the footage once the heat of the moment had cooled down.  In that minute of footage, I probably had the most honest and revealing admission of truth, a scene any filmmaker would dream to have captured, but to this day I’m the only person to have ever laid eyes on that clip.

My experience working with Dinesh on Unbroken Glass reminds me of that interview where the subject broke down crying. He and his family trusted me, allowed me into the most private moments of their lives with the hope something could be learned from their pain. Today, with Unbroken Glass I’m asking myself the same questions.  The relationship is different with Dinesh than previous subjects, but the lessons are all the same.  Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll find the will to turn the camera on myself and make a personal documentary of my own.

Some Thoughts on Making the Doc So Far

“As a writer, nowadays, you owe it to your readers to set yourself the most difficult challenge that you have some hope of being equal to. With every book, you have to dig as deep as possible and reach as far as possible. And if you do this, and you succeed in producing a reasonably good book, it means that the next time you try to write a book, you’re going to have to dig even deeper and reach even farther or else, again, it won’t be worth writing. And what this means, in practice is that you have to become a different person to write the next book. The person you already are already wrote the best book you could. There’s no way to move forward without changing yourself. Without, in other words, working on the story of your own life. Which is to say: your autobiography.” – Jonathan Franzen, On Autobiographical Fiction

When I was a kid I used to lie to people. I would pretend that I had parents, that they were away, that they were busy professionals. I think part of it was denial, but a large part of it was trust. I wouldn’t tell friends or teachers about this until I knew I could trust them.

This was actually a lot of fun. When you’re a kid it’s fun to have secrets, especially one as big as this. But it could be heavy too, of course. I think when you survive this kind of stuff at such an age, it kind of eclipses your sense of self. I’m not an expert but I think this is a kind of “survivor’s guilt.” I had moments where I felt like I would spend most of my life living the shadow of what had happened when I was six.

Permit me to spend this blog post writing a bit about myself. Not necessarily just myself, but I want to take some space to write a little bit about how the process of making this personal doc has affected me these last few years. So I guess I’m actually going to write about myself-making-the-doc, to keep it at least somewhat related to the goal of this blog.

I started shooting this project when I was 22, fresh out of my internship at Kartemquin Films. Looking back I had little idea what I was doing. I had a vague sense of needing to capture this story, but no real clear plans that it was going to be a documentary, much less the project that Unbroken Glass is now. I was motivated by a tremendous curiosity. A tremendous desire to know more than the scant, fading details I had about my parents lives.

It was going to be a project that I’d maybe only show my siblings. Maybe if they or I had kids, one day I could show them this to satisfy that natural curiosity of wanting to know where you really come from, wanting to know the story of you up to this very moment, stretched back as far as can be remembered. So that was the value that this could have.

As I grew up, I got more comfortable lying about it. When you’re younger, parents play such a huge role in how you relate to other kids. “What do your parents do?” More opportunities to lie. I experimented with telling the truth. Once in college I told a very middle-class girl the truth almost the moment I met her. She didn’t believe me, she thought I was joking. I think it was because I had cultivated a pretty jokey persona in general, (which I think I still have to this day), and hearing such an intense story, especially so soon after meeting someone, didn’t seem to fit in with her conception of me, or her conception of the kind of kids she was going to meet in college.

So even at age 22, I was pretty uncomfortable with the truth.  I think at some point I decided that I would no longer lie. When asked, I would tell people about it, but it’s a weird thing to volunteer.

After several years where I would interview people in spurts and then subsequently sit on the footage, I started thinking about putting this together. Since I had started shooting I probably always suspected that there might be value in making this a documentary for beyond just my family. At some point the story was bigger than just my family. I thought, (and still think), that there are people out there who have probably been touched by the same demons: death, suicide, mental illness, silence. Maybe there would be some virtue in telling this story publicly.

One of the difficulties was realizing how much of my identity and my self was wrapped up in this story. Being an orphan and surviving the trauma of losing my parents was a huge part of whom I was. Telling it publicly was giving it away. In some way giving myself away. What was left of me after these secrets?

And I couldn’t lie to people anymore.

There was a period right after I decided to make this a real honest to goodness documentary until recently where a big part of my identity was the struggle to make the film. I think a lot of first-time filmmakers probably go through something like this, a feeling that you’re laboring in solitude on a project that other people, (funders especially) don’t seem to really appreciate. Stasis. Looking back I realize that I was kind of stuck. The project actually wasn’t moving forward, I was sitting on a lot of footage, getting a lot of grant rejections and generally feeling kind of paranoid and isolated and angry. Everyone tells you to not take it personally, but every grant rejection felt like a rejection of me and my parents story.

That was kind of who I was. I might not have been able to be secretive and special about being an orphan anymore, but I could wear these things as some kind of badge.

There’s a lot of footage from this period where I complain a lot about how I don’t actually want to do this anymore. I complain about how I just want to quit and go back and live my life the way I used to. I was functional. I had freedom.

In the last year, through persistence, but mostly through great collaborators, the project has moved forward. I brought on board a co-producer who turned out to be one-in-a-million, Patrick Lile. I’ve been working with my good friend and collaborator Matt Lauterbach going through the footage and actually making the film. Recently we had a fundraiser where we showed some work in progress. People came! It was exciting. People actually seem to want to hear this story, an exhilarating feeling for any first-time filmmaker.

And that brings me to part of what I’m going through these last couple of weeks or months. After 22 years of living with this, and years making it into the movie, it finally feels like it’s moving forward. We can see the end. The film is going to get made and we’re all going to move on. That’s not to say it’s not going to be challenging or feel impossible again, but it’s a new stage where I’m able to consider not only the film being finished, but what life after this film might be like.

And that’s where the Franzen quote comes in. There was and is a real moment of worry that after I make this film, what of myself will be left? What more can I hope to do, now that this story, so essential to my identity is given to the public?

That’s what I find so enriching about Franzen’s thought, there is always more self to discover. As a filmmaker and an artist, there’s a need to continually reinvent and explore yourself through the work you make, not just a personal doc, but really any doc or serious pursuit. In fact, maybe as Franzen suggests, that’s what makes it a worthy project, one that challenges and expands your very notions of self.

I’m still not sure what exactly is going to happen when the doc is made. Part of me is full of trepidation when I think about this film reaching an audience. That story that I used to carefully guard and only tell a handful of people that I trusted will be given to the public. People will make their own sense of it, draw their own conclusions about my parents and me. And I won’t be able to stop them.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what I want to do next, the projects I used to fantasize about when I was mired in stasis with this one. It’s exciting to consider the stories that have yet to be told, the adventures that have yet to be had. Sometimes when I show clips of this film people ask if the process has been cathartic. I’m not sure if it was making the film or simply growing up, but I can say that I’m in a better, different place now then when I was when I began this project. And once the project is over, I’m looking forward to doing what Franzen exhorts: to dig deeper, reach even farther, all while working on the story of my own life.

Meet Co-producer Patrick Lile

Patrick Lile is the Associate Producer of Unbroken Glass. Patrick, who is also finishing up his MFA in Documentary Film at Columbia College Chicago (where he is also an adjunct faculty member), was the Outreach Coordinator for The Interrupters, and most recently assisted in the post-production of Life Itself, the soon-to-be released Kartemquin documentary on Roger Ebert.

How did you first get involved with Unbroken Glass?

I was working on The Interrupters as the Outreach Coordinator, when Dinesh approached me about coming on board as a producer. We had known each other for a while – Dinesh actually sat in on my Kartemquin internship interview – and I’d helped out on the project a few times doing various ‘odds and ends’ jobs. But Dinesh had seen what I was doing on The Interrupters, and felt that my experiences building outreach and connecting with the right communities for that film could translate over to Unbroken Glass, and really help take it to the next level.

What was it about Unbroken Glass that made you want to become a part of the project?

It’s important that you believe in a project, and in the case of Unbroken Glass, its themes really spoke to me. Although it’s about mental health in immigrant populations, which is a very dire and relevant social issue, universally it’s about ‘family’. It’s about the ways in which the scars and experiences of the parents reverberate through generations, and how the children, whether emotionally or physically, carry on what happened. Every family, every person, has things in the closet that don’t get talked about. The most important thing our film can do is to empower people to talk about those things, not hide them.

How do you approach producing and doing outreach?

I started running marathons sometime between when I graduated from undergrad and went back to get my masters. The lessons I learned from training for those races is how I frame my approach to documentary filmmaking. You start small – 4 or 5 miles here and there – but it’s those little runs that end up becoming the building blocks for accomplishing something greater. You start with one grant, then another; you find an outreach partner, edit together a group of scenes that you can really be proud of. With every mile marker that you pass, you build momentum and confidence. The legs will get tired, and when they do, you regroup, catch your breath, and start focusing on those small milestones again.

So where are you at with Unbroken Glass?

We’ve run our first half marathon, so we’ve hit the 13-mile point. We’ve teamed up with some fantastic future outreach partners and acquired some grants, and although 13 miles is great, it’s never been our goal. You have to have a vision for the end, that goal for the 26th mile. We have some wonderful milestones coming up as we move into 2014, like Drinks in Progress, and having a rough cut done by the end of the year. But we will continue with our grant writing (both big and small); we will continue to reach out to a variety of outreach partners, and really try to maximize the potential impact our film can have in raising awareness of issues of mental health. It’s a long process, but in a few years we will be able to look back on what we were able to accomplish with Unbroken Glass, and say we were able to succeed because we took so many correct steps early on, and took it one-mile marker at a time.

Meet Our Editor Matt Lauterbach

Matt Lauterbach, who is the post-production manager at Kartemquin Films, is the editor on Unbroken Glass. Matt, who moved into documentary filmmaking from the teaching world, is a firm supporter of documentary as an educational tool, and believes that it is the most powerful way to communicate the experiences, emotions, and ideas of others. He recently helped complete The Trials of Muhammad Ali, is working on completing American Arab, after cutting The Penelope Project.

What is it about the editing process that you enjoy?

Editing is a very reflective process, and I love the challenge of crafting a film and bringing everything together in a way that is true to the film’s subject.  It is also important that you take the viewer on a journey — one that is genuine and meaningful — so that is an aspect I really enjoy as well.

How did you get involved with Unbroken Glass?

Dinesh and I were in the same Kartemquin intern group together, and we began collaborating on projects together. Later, we got started on the intriguingly titled  “Parent Project,” which would become Unbroken Glass. He was at the point where he really wanted to expand its scope, so he approached me to help out. I first got involved as kind of the person off-camera asking Dinesh questions. When it became a Kartemquin project, he was comfortable enough with me to ask me to come aboard as an editor. Trust is a huge part of the editor/director relationship in general, but particularly with this project which involves such sensitive material.

What is your approach to editing Unbroken Glass?

Dinesh came to me at a point when he was realizing that he was too close to the material and needed another set of eyes. It’s been nice because I’ve had the freedom to peruse all of the material and shape the ‘bricks’ that we are going to build the film out of. Right now, we are at a point where we are trying to get the chronological story of his parent’s time together completely straight. There are a lot of memories by a lot of different people, so what we’ve done is create chronological strands of his parents marriage, their immigration to the US, his mother’s decline, and his father’s science career and anger problems.

Sounds interesting, but also very challenging.

That is the part that I am really itching to get to: how do we make this into a film. We have a lot of different parts that individually have strength, but how we going to dip back and forth between present and past, and also ultimately, what is it all leading to? What will be our conclusion? There is so much that we need to try and test out, but that is the freedom of the editing room! You can try things and if it doesn’t work, that is okay.

Ultimately, what is your goal as an editor, and what do you want viewers to take from the film?

My goal as an editor is to be true to the questions and experiences inherent in the footage. In my view, editing is an act of perspective taking. It is an act of empathy. In Unbroken Glass, I think the subjects having to cope with the memory of trauma, figuring out how to find meaning in their parent’s death, and figuring out a way to talk about these things are some of the film’s central themes. However, as an editor, it doesn’t really matter what I think the film should be about. It is about the experiential reality of Dinesh’s journey, his siblings, and his family.

We should also note that Matt has a sharp smile and impeccable taste in Trader Joe’s frozen food, both boons in the doc editing world. Join Matt and the rest of the Unbroken Glass team on September 5th at Schuba’s for “Drinks in Progress.”