Private Project

Unheard Stories

UNHEARD STORIES is a moving, funny, intimate portrait of Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, a self-described “transcultural” visual artist based in Rhode Island. The film traces Matthew’s life’s journey making unsettling, cathartic art, in collaboration with communities of color and immigrants. Matthew mines and creatively manipulates diverse family and historical archives in collaboration with participating subjects––sometimes deploying her own image––to produce thought-provoking public facing works in analog photography, digital imaging, video, and installation art. Pushing back against silences, omissions and dominant narratives, her cathartic work transforms collective pain and trauma, while raising important questions about cultural erasure as she redraws the lines of history and memory with her lens. Her life journey provides the film’s arc including her balking at Indian societal pressures and moving to the US to study photography. She finds her voice as an artist here, creating work reflecting her own experience, and that of fellow immigrants. One example, “An Indian from India” riffs on 19th-century colonial photos of Native Americans in response to being asked, “Where are you really from?” The photo-animations of “Open Wound” merge family photographs of South-Asian immigrants with her collaborators’ memories of the horrific violence of the 1947 Partition of British India. While her work has garnered critical praise, she is repeatedly sidelined into narrowly defined “Asian” or “Indian” themed exhibitions and publications. So, is an immigrant woman of color forever consigned to ethnically pegged shows? Can the important perspectives, insights, and rich histories in Matthew’s work become part of our cultural conversations? Can she transcend - even upend - the art world’s silos?

  • David Helfer Wells
    Trap Fishing, Blending into the American Dream
  • Vaishali Sinha
  • Lee Adair Lawrence
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 21 minutes 46 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 1, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    350,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    India, Italy, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    DSLR Video
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - David Helfer Wells

David Helfer Wells is an award winning visual storyteller who has worked as a newspaper photographer, a freelance magazine photographer, and most recently as a filmmaker. Besides serving as the director, he is the film’s Cinematographer, Sound Recordist, and Rough-Cut editor. His short films, among them Trap Fishing and Blending into the American Dream, have been screened at festivals in Ankara, Bangalore, Jaipur, Lahore, Lisbon, Mumbai, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia, Providence, Rome, Sacramento and San Francisco. Vaishali Sinha, an award-winning director/producer, is the Executive Producer. Sinha has received support for her films from ITVS, MacArthur Foundation, Tribeca Film Institute, Catapult Fund, Firelight Media, Playboy Foundation, Chicken & Egg Pictures, The Fledgling Fund, Center for Asian American Media, Hot Docs Forum, and more. She brings this vast film world experience to the film. Equally important is her experience as a South Asian woman, which echoes that of the film’s protagonist. Sinha has been viewing cuts of the film regularly as well as helping assemble the filmmaking team. Sinha connected the Director to Loulwa El Khoury, the award-winning Consulting editor who was a Karen Schmeer Editing Fellow, a fellow in the Sundance Co//ab Art of Editing program, and part of the first DOC NYC x VC Storytelling Incubator. El Khoury has been working with Wells via Zoom and in person, giving detailed notes on revising the overall structure of the film as well as detailed fixes needed to polish individual scenes. Jane Greenberg, our budget advisor, brings to the film her experience working in critical roles on public television and independent documentaries for over 25 years. She brings to this project her fluency in Quickbooks and a solid understanding of building and maintaining transparent financial systems for documentaries.

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Director Statement

My unique connection and access to this story lies in my trusting relationship with Matthew as her husband, as a fellow artist, and as a participant in her art and world. What began as a personal, private project developed into a philosophically rich full biographical portrayal. Granted unique access I was compelled to portray her on film as fully and authentically as possible as an artist and human being. My special access to Matthew and her mother further yielded a filmed interview that supplies moving biographical details that not only significantly add to understanding Matthew’s work, but also heighten the stakes of the film’s storytelling. All this said, access and connection alone do not the best film make. I am the best filmmaker to tell this story because I have also demonstrated necessary artistic judgment by bringing onto the team other gifted filmmakers to balance the storytelling and to compensate for my obvious limitations based on my intimate connection to the story.