Experiencing Interruptions?

Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi

A family's search for their missing son and the hunt for suspects in a terror attack tragically converge in Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, a film about truth and community in the age of social media.

While in the throes of depression, Brown University student Sunil Tripathi walked out of his Providence apartment and disappeared into the cold Rhode Island night. In a desperate search to find him, his family launched a social media movement that reached across the country and brought together a community dedicated to finding him. In the days following the Boston Marathon bombings the family's month-long investigation into Sunil's disappearance exploded into a virtual confrontation with e-vigilantes, citizen journalists and traditional media eager to feed their insatiable hunger for breaking news.

In Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi, the Tripathi family tells a story of the healing and destructive power of social media and director Neal Broffman offers an intimate look at the enduring love that unites a family in crisis.

  • Neal Broffman
    Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South, At The End of Slavery, Voices of Freedom, The Chattahoochee: Re-Imagine Our River
  • Elisa Gambino
    Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South, At The End of Slavery, Voices of Freedom, The Chattahoochee: Re-Imagine Our River
  • Heather O'Neill
    Planet In Peril
  • Patrick Kirst
    Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South, An African Election, At The End of Slavery, The Chattahoochee: Re-Imagine Our River
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 15 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    March 1, 2015
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    Canon C300 Digital HD
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Atlanta Film Festival
    Atlanta, Georgia
    March 25, 2015
    Audience Award (Feature Film)
  • Hot Docs
    April 29, 2015
    International Premiere
  • Docs For Schools
    Toronto, Canada
    April 29, 2015
  • American Documentary Film Festival
    Palm Springs, CA
    March 29, 2015
  • Annapolis Film Festival
    Annapolis, MD
    March 27, 2015
  • Albuquerque Film & Music Experience
    Albuquerque, NM
    June 2, 2015
    Opening Night Film
  • Brooklyn Film Festival
    Brooklyn, New York
    June 5, 2015
    New York Premiere
    Audience Award Feature Documentary
  • Bell Media Best of Hot Docs
    June 15, 2015
  • DMZ International Documentary Film Festival
    Ilsan-gu, South Korea
    September 17, 2015
    Asian Premiere
  • Rhode Island International Film Festival
    Providence, Rhode Island
    August 8, 2015
    Ambassador Award
  • New Orleans Film Festival
    New Orleans
    October 19, 2015
  • Denver Film Festival
    November 12, 2015
  • Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival
    Sag Harbor
    December 5, 2015
  • Boston Asian American Film Festival
    October 24, 2015
    Boston Premiere
  • St. Louis International Film Festival
    St. Louis
    November 7, 2015
  • Colchester Film Festival
    Colchester, England
    October 19, 2015
    Best Feature Film
  • Columbia University Scholars Program
    New York
    October 7, 2015
    U.S College Premiere
  • ReFrame International Film Festival
    Peterborough, Canada
    January 30, 2016
  • Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels
    Biarritz, France
    January 22, 2016
  • Dallas Fort Worth South Asian Film Festival
    Dallas, Texas
    February 20, 2016
  • Oxford Film Festival
    Oxford, Mississippi
    February 20, 2016
  • One World Film Festival
    Czech Republic
    April 29, 2016
    Czech Republic
  • RiverRun International Film Festival
    Winston-Salem, North Carolina
    April 13, 2016
    North Carolina
Director Biography - Neal Broffman

Neal Broffman grew up in his father’s photographic darkroom where he was mesmerized by the powerful and iconic images of the American Civil Rights Movement his father had taken. For more than two decades Neal has been filming and documenting stories around the world and that early and influential aesthetic informs his work to this day.

Neal’s decade with CNN International, while based in London, Rome and Moscow took him to Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East where he covered wars, elections, famines and upheaval in more than forty countries and where he solidified his credentials as a journalist.

Working with One Production Place since its founding in 2001, Broffman’s work has received many domestic and international awards. Hot Spots: Martin Parr in the American South was featured in the Arte Cinema Festival of Contemporary Arts in Naples, Italy in October 2013 and was screened in Paris at the prestigious Maison Européenne de la Photographie. Hot Spots received a 2012 southeast Emmy nomination for best documentary.

Voices of Freedom, produced for the High Museum of Art in Atlanta as part of a comprehensive exhibition of Civil Rights Movement photographs, won the 2009 CINE Special Jury Prize for best in class and was screened at The Field Museum in Chicago, The Smithsonian Institution, The Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and The Bronx Museum.

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Director Statement

When I was based abroad for CNN International in the 90s I used to carry a laminated card in the side pocket of my camera cover. On the card was printed a series of news gathering guidelines sent by CNN’s president Tom Johnson that carefully delineated what was and was not “staging” — creating a situation and presenting it as genuine. I was thankful to have the card and on more than one occasion I shared it with overly creative colleagues. My experience and intuition taught me that our presence in the field was already an artificial situation. To interfere with the scene further was a red line I was careful not to cross because the integrity of our work was sacrosanct. Twenty years later journalists have more outlets than ever to share their stories and more tools than ever to help them reach a global audience. Nevertheless, the ethics of journalism have not changed. With the changing and ever increasing number of platforms to disseminate news those ethics remain the same. They revolve around a simple foundation: don’t make things up.

On March 18th and into the early morning of the 19th far too many journalists needed a version of that laminated card on their desks, next to their computers, next to their telephones. By taking to Twitter and hiding behind the damning disclaimer that “retweets are not endorsements” many of these journalists (some from the most respected news outlets in the country) chose to ignore the basic precepts of their profession. In the process, and partly as a result, the Tripathi family was subjected to on-line attacks and threats. As a friend I was furious at the abuse heaped upon them and as a journalist I was dismayed to see just how porous the separation between social media and the press had become. Maybe I was late to arrive at this realization. Sloppy e-reporting is a common occurrence but when the subjects are people you know the realization of how damaging it can be resonates profoundly.

In March and April of 2013 the Tripathis tried desperately to find Sunil. Today, Sunil Tripathi is easy to find. His name is embedded, on line, in the thousands of accusations made against him that connect him in death to an event that happened when he wasn’t even alive. His name is embedded in the Tweets and Retweets sent out by the journalists who trafficked in the misinformation. Sunil’s name is also embedded in the thousands of posts written by people who were horrified by the events of April 18-19. Their apologies and the photographs they sent to the family are full of love, contrition, sadness.

When I asked the Tripathis permission to tell this story I originally wanted to set the record straight and to re-claim Sunil’s real story. I wanted to make sure that the rules laid out on that laminated card again held sway. But along the way my film about ethics and journalism became the Tripathi’s film about the transcendent power of hope, forgiveness and community. I came to understand that a laminated card is worthless in a society without compassion. Ravi Tripathi said it best, “There are lessons to be learned in how we treat each other in a bigger society and how in a time of trauma and tragedy we don’t run to accuse and to threaten but we run to find the truth and to create justice.” To my journalist colleagues I say, please retweet that.