By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Filmmaker Dinesh Sabu, director of the autobiographical documentary “Unbroken Glass,” was born in Baton Rouge, La., to an Indian family. He moved to Shreveport after losing both of his parents within a very short time. He later moved to Albuquerque, N.M., and then, to Chicago, for his college studies.
“I think moving around a lot, combined with losing my parents, had the effect of making my siblings and I very, very close,” Sabu mused. “Not only did we have this trauma that we all shared, we often didn’t know a lot of people either. Also, the places we lived didn’t have the largest, closest-knit, Indian communities to begin with, so my siblings and I began to rely on each other for a lot.”
He admired Akira Kurosawa as a teenager, and went on to study the work of the great Italian neorealists, including Vittorio De Sica, director of the classic “Bicycle Thieves” and others. But the job he held the summer before college set him definitively on the path to filmmaking. Working at a small, short-lived independent cinema in Albuquerque, he watched “Stevie,” directed by Steve James. This documentary study of a very troubled young man, facing a long prison sentence for a horrible crime, blew him away with its humanity encoded within this strong craft.
Sabu describes documentary film as “a way to combine cinematic storytelling [methods] to ask sociological questions, often times very necessary sociological questions.” Working on a documentary featuring his own family, however, produced many uphill battles.
His parents had been dead for nearly 20 years when he began filming. He had only the stories from family members and photographs with which to recreate them. He envisioned a fairly dry narrative featuring family memories, and he did not imagine being in front of the camera much. Both of those suppositions would turn topsy-turvy as he worked.
“The biggest challenges involved confronting the trauma of these events, and challenging the silence around them,” including his mother’s suicide, Sabu related. “It was hard to continually have to revisit these things. Looking back, I wonder if a part of myself knew that that’s where the film was going, and that this was a way to force myself to finally confront and deal with a lot of these issues.”
Involving his siblings in the project, and dredging up what they remembered, what they knew, and what they had spent decades avoiding, proved quite taxing at times, Sabu admitted. At least once or twice, he found himself in front of his own camera, answering questions from family about his own intentions. He reacted to this, in part, by injecting concerns over his own mental health into the film, adding, to the trauma of loss, concerns about whether the same demons might consume him.
Working through the painful past did put some strain on his family relationships, according to Sabu. But once they understood what he was trying to do, that he was not trying to show disrespect to anyone, they accepted the project. Sabu described this as a necessary part of the film, both for the depiction of him hitting, then working through, a boundary; and for the mistakes that he made along his way, and how he made them right within his family.
Sabu looks forward to the film being watched by a wide audience, for the first time.
Describing some small feedback screenings, he remarked, “I’m struck by how much people relate to elements in the film. I hope that part of my story touches on some universal themes: family, loss, questions about where you came from.”
“Unbroken Glass” plays its world premiere on Saturday, Oct. 22nd, at noon, at Renton’s Carco Theatre, 1717 Maple Valley Hwy, in Renton, as part of the Seattle South Asian Film Festival. For more information, visit ssaff.tasveer.org/2016/schedule.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.