A Project for Better Journalism chapter

“Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi” will leave you speachless

The Denver Film Festival is reaching its close this weekend after two successful weeks. A highlight of the two weeks was the film Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi. The documentary follows the story of a young boy, Sunil Tripathi as he goes from a spirited and outgoing boy, to fighting the brutal battle of mental illness. When Sunil goes missing in 2013 the family turns to social media to help get the word out to find their son, but they watch social media take a dark turn on them as their son is wrongly accused of being an official suspect for the Boston Marathon bombing. Director Neal Broffman does an incredible job of telling the story of Sunil Tripathi sensitively while addressing the larger issues of the power of social media and the incredibly real threat that is mental illness.

The documentary pulled at heartstrings, as the beginning of the film shows Sunil as a child through photos and videos; he was innocent and had a free spirit. Included are many interviews from his brother, sister, mother, father, family and friends. Broffman sets the viewer up to see this story as not a statistic or past event, but a real person’s life who faced the repercussion of prevalent issues that still affect people to this day. Not only does Broffman lead the film with memories from Sunil’s childhood, but he also gives you an insight on how Sunil’s life plays out, making you eager to watch and see what happens from the moment you sit down.

The Tripathi family went to social media to aid in their search for their beloved “Sunny” but as photos emerged of suspects to the public, Twitter and Reddit blew up with comments that it may be Sunil. The comments began to come faster and faster, every one more derogatory than the last. The documentary did an excellent job of showing the impacts of the Tweets and Reddit posts as throughout the movie, they show up on the screen as they appeared those days. These unedited posts that the viewer reads for themselves off the screen were so powerful and showed the immense speed at which such a rumor spread through social media and the internet. It is not long before official media outlets identify Sunil Tripathi as the “official suspect #2” with no evidence and grounding. The film shows the phones of the family ringing off the hook with media as they try and cope with the negative comments and hope that someone will help them to convey the message that it was not their son; your heart drops when you learn that Sunil Tripathi’s body was found two weeks after the bombing as he had committed suicide the night he went missing, a month before the Boston bombings. You find out later, not a single outlet who wrongly accused Sunil Tripathi for the Boston bombings were willing to speak with Broffman for the film, emphasizing the true essence of the problem.

Sunil Tripathi’s story of the all consuming illness that is depression took a horrible turn that brought out a new side to society however, his mental illness was still a huge part of his life. For years, Sunil was the youngest member of his family, full of glee and a large curiosity for the world around him. He attended Brown University and took a turn where he was not engaged in his work and pretty suddenly entered a slump. The Tripathi family did everything they could and tried to give Sunil support, but knew the day he went missing, this would likely not have a happy ending. Sunil’s mother at the end of the film puts an emphasis on the very real issue of depression and hopes that this film gets the message out that victims of this mental illness should be taken care of. The documentary has an incredible commentary on the depression of Sunil as it shows his family and friends speaking  to his sudden change.

The story of Sunil Tripathi is a heart wrenching one but was told in a beautiful way. The story of this boy encompasses national tragedy, racism, impact of social media, mental illness and more all in one. Broffman did an outstanding job of bringing to light these issues by telling the story of this one, kind, troubled boy.