Interview with Sonali Gulati, director of the documentary I AM

SDAFF programmer James Paguyo chats with director Sonali Gulati about her award-winning film I AM, which explores the struggles of gay and lesbians and their families in India.

You were able to successfully weave together many personal stories from a number of different sources in the Indian LGBT community. Can you talk about the research process for the film and if it was at all difficult to get people to talk to you about their struggles regarding their LGBT identity?

Actually it was quite easy to find parents to be in the film. The harder part was convincing their children to be in the film. I really wanted queer people to speak for themselves and not be “talked about” like they often are. Given that I’ve been involved in organizing the South Asian queer community for the last 14 years, I was in a very fortunate position to connect with people and get the word out about looking for people to participate in this project.

Were there any stories from your interviews that were unexpected or surprising to you?

One of the people that took me by complete surprise was a mother who said that if my mother were alive, she would have come and talked to her on my behalf. It was a very moving moment and had me in tears. I realized that I was not ready to have a conversation with our parents that I had not had with my own mother. I had to take a break from filming and it wasn’t another 18 months until I was able to pick up the camera again.

You’ve stated that part of the inspiration for this film came in the process of struggling with the fact that you never came out to your own mother. Can you talk about the role your mother played in the process of making this film?

Well, my mother passed away in 1997 and there was a part of me that felt this deep sense of regret of having lost the opportunity to come out to her. That became the primary motivation to make this film.

Do you feel you accomplished what you set out to achieve in making this film?

It has taken me six years to make this film and I have put in a lot of hard work, energy, and effort into getting it done. The response from audiences in various countries (US, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal etc.) has been phenomenal and very very gratifying, so yes I do feel like I’ve managed to accomplish something.

What is the overall message that you hope an audience leaves with after watching I AM?

I hope that people realize that queer people are as human as heterosexual people and ought to be treated equally and deserve the same rights.

Catch I AM at the San Diego Asian Film Festival on Saturday, Oct. 22. To see a trailer and find out more about the film, click here.