“When we were walking the river looking for him I just knew that we were too small to solve this alone; and the world was too big, and it was too lonely and it was too dark, and it was too cold.” – Sangeeta Tripathi (Sunil’s Sister).
May 1st, 2015 The mettle of every family gets tested from time to time and the Tripathi family from Center City, Philadelphia was no exception. Their test would come in debilitating bouts of depression that would hobble their youngest son Sunil. It started in his junior year while attending the prestigious Brown University and all the loving interventions from family and friends could not break the spiralling descent he was going through. His disappearance around March 17th, 2013 and the subsequent grassroots investigation orchestrated both online and off by family and friends would get co-opted by an abhorrent social media attack on Sunil in a frenzied race to confirm another truth. Director, Neal Broffman’s new documentary, “HELP US FIND SUNIL TRIPATHI” is an unsettling primer on the perils of misidentification and its uneasy relationship with mass media.
“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” – Mark Twain.
Almost a month after Sunil’s investigation rounded into high gear the unconscionable tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15th, 2013 would hobble a nation. Now two investigations were mobilizing their respective tools and resources to find the truth. With Sunil’s face now saturating Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and the Blogosphere, local and national news affiliates pressed the Boston Bombing coverage for the latest clues. As the FBI raced to confirm the grainy images of the two primary suspects the darker side of social media started to take root. We now know that the Tsarnaev Brothers were public enemy #1 and 2 but long before that confirmation was made by the FBI, the names Mike Mulugeta (Suspect #1) and Sunil Tripathi (Suspect #2) were quickly targeted, then confirmed and then reconfirmed on every media outlet in America. Director, Neal Broffman’s incorporation of actual Reddit posts and tweets showed the hideous evolution from missing citizen to confirmed murderer and just how fast people get the story wrong in our over-sharing, self-publishing obsessed world. To many, the superimposed photos that toggled between images of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Sunil too easily made the case in the minds of many. The hate filled vitriol towards Sunil and his family was now trending as citizen journalists were building their unsubstantiated cases with a juggernaut mentality of a virtual mob spewing all forms of anti- Muslim rhetoric which showed no signs of abating. And still there were very few apologies when the truth finally surfaced. For all you media defenders, good luck trying to find a non-buried retraction in print.
VERDICT 4.0 / 5: Broffman’s skillful execution of what can and will occur when the wild west of hearsay, speculation and innuendo goes unabated should be a lesson to us all. Not only had the horse left the barn but it was running straight into the glue factory. Even though media is the fourth estate, the deplorable reporting we witness by trusted mainstream news organizations rendered them stateless in my view. Sunil’s story provides a critical perspective on getting the scoop along with the breaking news mandate that saturates all news rooms. But, it’s the joyous light with which Broffman captures the beauty in the life of Sunil Tripathi, and by extension his close knit family that turns this tragedy into a meaningful triumph. Not lost in the tragedy of HELP US FIND SUNIL TRIPATHI is the affliction of mental illness and the struggles families go through to save the ones they love.
FINAL THOUGHT: Fast news will always come at a price.
Genre: Documentary, Crime, Mental Illness
Director: Neal Broffman
Writer: Neal Broffman
Producer: Heather O’Neill
Executive Producer: Elisa Gambino
Composer: Patrick Kirst
Premiere: INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE
Runtime: 75 Minutes
Cast: Judy Tripathi, Ravi Tripathi, Sangeeta Tripathi, David Blumberg, Akhil Tripathi, Alyna Khan, Stacey Samuel, Janet Cooper Nelson, Nancy Bent, Mike Wheeler, Nina Taylor, Amanda Taylor, Ben Beachy, Lisa Vargas, Chris Combs, Patricia Fortier, Shane Lloyd, Pete Santilli, Alexis Modrigal, Bryn Mawr, Mari Schaefer, Tom Kelly, Patrick Walters, Katie Thomson, Robin Mazzoli, Bridget Murphy, Milton Valencia, Angela Hill, Erik Martin.