Last night we had the first screening of our short film. Thank you to our panelists Sarah Caterina and Tatiana Gjergji for a great evening of dialogue and celebration of community engagement and empowerment. And thank you to the Madison Theatre for hosting our event. Thank you to everyone in the audience who came out to support the film and hold space for these powerful stories. It’s amazing how uplifting and healing the power of sharing our stories, experiences, art, and humanity is. May everyone have the freedom and safety to share their stories and may we all find authentic connection to be our unique, whole, perfectly imperfect selves.
Thank you to Rashid Howell for snapping pics. The following are some thoughts I want to share the morning after the big night:
Reflections on doing an important thing even when it’s not popular, comfortable or profitable…
Sometimes you are called to do somethings in life that go against the grain. For me, this is a recurring theme in my life. For whatever reason, I am drawn to the shadows, the corners, the undersides. I seek out what’s hidden and definitely not mainstream. I am called to have the difficult conversations, challenge the status quo, rock the boat. I just can’t seem to sit down, stay in line, color between the lines, toe the line…
But in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, I “trust in what is difficult.”
Call me a martyr, but I can’t help it. I can’t sit by complacently and watch injustice happen. I have to push back.
Making this documentary film about gender-based violence is not easy. No one wants to look at the dark and ugly side of human nature. We all want to escape, be entertained, forget our worries and stresses. But we can’t heal and make progress until we do the hard and uncomfortable work of confronting our collective wounds. That’s why I am compelled to make this film and tell these stories of abuse.
This film isn’t an easy sell. No film is. But social justice documentaries are especially difficult to fund. And believe it or not the field is very competitive. The particular subject matter of this doc is especially challenging to market. I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway. Because it needs to be done. These stories need to be told. These conversations need to happen. We need to normalize shadow work, human error, imperfection, and embrace change.
I have immense respect and am grateful to all of you who are doing this difficult work with me and those of you who are joining me in the journey. We are stronger together and we are making a difference.
I wanted to do a livestream of the Q&A Panel at last night’s screening event but unfortunately that didn’t happen. So, I want to try to recap here some of the important comments, messages, take-aways and questions that were addressed by the panelists and offered by the audience members. For those who wanted to come but missed it, for the brave subjects who are the heart and soul of this film, and for the amazing production members back in Sri Lanka who produced this film with me. None of this would have happened without any of them. Each and every person involved along the journey has played an integral part and to you all I am grateful.
First and foremost, everyone who saw the film last night felt the universality of the stories. Even though the doc is set in Sri Lanka, abuse happens everywhere and one woman, man or child’s story is mirrored in all others’ experience of abuse. We spoke about specific cultural differences that manifest from one country to another, but acknowledged that on the deeper level abuse is abuse and it’s all about power and control, no matter which part of the globe it happens.
A couple of my friends who are moms brought their adolescent sons to the film with them. I was so impressed by these boys’ maturity and openness to not only watch the film but engage in the dialogue after. Both of them came up to me after the event to talk to me about the doc and their impressions. Interestingly, both of them had similar commentary. They were really impressed with the beautiful nature shots of the ocean and landscapes and wildlife that are cut into the film as meditative and symbolic pauses. These shots are some of my favorite parts of the film and l love that these two boys appreciated the value and shared how it resonated with them. I commend these two moms for bringing their sons with them last night. This is how to raise feminist men. This is how we shift the culture. It all starts at home and about normalizing the difficult conversations with the new generation.
Another important question was asked by an audience member which was why do the abusers abuse and are there any abusers who heal and get better and stop the cycle. Panelist Sarah Caterina answered this really well and said that yes, there are therapies and self-help groups which help abusers recognize their behaviors and take accountability for them and are on the road to recovery. It’s so easy to villainize perpetrators, but they are most often victims of abuse themselves and need deep therapy to overcome their habitual patterns. She also underscored how alcoholism and drug abuse compound the problem.
We had another young film maker in the audience and she asked two really great questions. The first of which was why did I make this film and why did I choose to set it in Sri Lanka as abuse happens everywhere, what compelled me to make the doc in Sri Lanka? I shared my backstory, how I am a survivor and that my abuse happened to me in Sri Lanka with a Sri Lankan man so my personal understanding of abuse is within the Sri Lankan cultural context. I never experienced abuse here in the US and before I had experienced intimate partner violence, I never thought I would be “that woman.” I used to be so judgmental and often asked the common question “Why does she stay?” when I heard other women’s stories of abuse. Until one is in those shoes, one can’t understand it.
Her second question was how was I able to produce such a high caliber film as a first-time film maker. I’m so happy she asked this because my FAVORITE thing to talk about is my stellar production team. I had wanted to have them all on a zoom call projected on the screen during the panel but due to time zone differences that just wasn’t possible (it was 5:30 am in Sri Lanka) and they are all busy on shoots and scouts and edits constantly. So, I gave a huge shout out to them all, bragged about their dope skills and spoke the truth which is they brought the skills to the table and I brought the vision and direction. I received so much positive feedback from the audience about the photography, music, editing and overall professional quality of the film. So mad respect as always to the team: Hasitha Warnasooriya, Nuwan Attanayake, Sarani Perera, Isuru Kumarasinghe, Virgil Thomas, Doyel Dawson, Saji Kularathne, Misha Conrad, and Isuru Mudiyanse.
Finally, I was approached after the event by a notable guest from Chennai, India who is in Albany visiting her daughter who is the journalist that wrote the TU piece about the film. I was so honored to have her there in attendance as she has experience working in the GBV field for over twenty years in Chennai. She was so impressed with the film and the courage of everyone involved. She understands the risks involved and the upward battle we face. But she said change is possible and she’s seen first-hand how grassroots community involvement, engagement, and empowerment is the key.
It was a successful night and I feel supported and uplifted by this work and know our efforts are making a difference.