Review by Kerry Eleveld
Rating: (4 out of 5) [Critic’s Pick!]
Saturday, 10/15/2011, 3:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at GWU Documentary Center
Hindi and English with English subtitles
SUNALI GULATI SETS out to answer a question so many of us have grappled with: How does one make peace with a conversation that never happened and a mother who was never given the opportunity to fully embrace her daughter’s humanity? Or, put more universally, how do we lay to rest the ghost of the unknowable and unanswerable in a heart that longs for closure?
”The fact is, I’ll never now for sure how you would have reacted or how things would have unfolded if you had lived,” says Gulati. ”The fact is, we all live our lives like we have plenty of time.”
Gulati starts her exploration by returning to Delhi, India, where she grew up, to unpack the house that had laid dormant since her mother passed away nearly a decade earlier. Where her search will take viewers is not immediately obvious and it originally seems as if it might lead us through a series of tender yet banal revelations about sexuality and gender identity that just happens to be set in a foreign land. But Gulati escapes the triteness trap by finding a series of engaging characters with some unanticipated stories, each one providing another piece of the puzzle she is trying to solve.
The flow of characters is steady and doesn’t linger on any one person for too long, which is part of what keeps us engrossed as the film seamlessly moves from the vantage point of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals to that of the mothers and fathers who raised them. Some of the interviews are in Hindi with subtitles but many of them also include native-born Indians speaking English. The interviews conducted in English are sometimes refreshingly candid because the subjects thoughts and emotions are offered in language that is uncorrupted by the PC police that so often manage to suppress some of our truest reflections here in the U.S.
The film is a heartwarming journey toward acceptance that gets all of the technical aspects of documentary filmmaking right. The videography is beautiful, set off by the backdrop of the rich colors and cultural traditions of India. Gulati and her editor, Anupama Chandra, let the precious moments breathe, and often absorb us in the thoughts of its participants by setting their interviews to slow-motion video that strokes our visual senses without demanding any critical thinking. I Am is a film that offers every LGBT person a vehicle for self-reflection and universal discoveries while being especially pleasing to anyone who has a particular interest in or affinity for Indian culture.