Private Project

Unheard Stories: The Art and Life of Annu Palakunnathu Matthew

What does it take for a South Asian immigrant woman to earn acceptance as an American artist? Inspiring and eye-opening, “Unheard Stories” draws us into the experiences of Annu Palakunnathu Matthew as she battles subtle, silencing barriers with pluck, perseverance, and artwork that’s stunning in beauty and message.  This feature-length (90 minute) documentary film explores the life and art of Annu Palakunnathu Matthew. Her art explores the obstacles confronting her and her collaborators; immigrants, women, and people of color. She is a Rhode Island artist who emigrated from India to study photojournalism but found her voice as an artist. We join Matthew as she works with multi-generational families in India and with immigrant families in the United States creating her unique photo-animations. By any metric, she is successful; her work is in significant exhibitions and garners critical praise. Yet the art world subtly ghettoizes Matthew’s work and the stories of those she collaborates with, muffling valuable perspectives and unexpected insights. As Swarthmore College professor Bakirathi Mani points out, the shows are ethnically pegged, the venues have a history of racist ethnography. Can Matthew transcend the art world’s traditional silos? Through “Unheard Stories,” we will find out.

  • David Helfer Wells
  • Lee Adair Lawrence
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    5 minutes 12 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 18, 2021
  • 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, using various media (exhibitions, books, newspapers, magazines, and motion pictures) to tell critical socio-political stories. Born in Albany, N.Y., he was raised and educated in Los Angeles, earning a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Pitzer College of the Claremont Colleges. He worked as a newspaper and then a magazine photojournalist for four decades. His work appeared in publications such as Fortune, Life, National Geographic, Newsweek, The Sunday New York Times, and Time magazine, among others. His films have been juried into festivals worldwide, including Bangalore, Lahore, Lisbon, Mumbai, New Haven, New York City, Philadelphia, Princeton, Providence, Rome, and San Francisco.
Wells’s professional work immersed him in communities across the U.S. and five continents. His perspectives and sensitivity to intercultural dynamics have been equally shaped by his two-decade-plus marriage to a South-Asian artist, the film’s subject, Annu Palakunnathu Matthew, an American citizen of South-Asian descent, born in the U.K. and raised in India.

His extensive experience in India includes working there on assignments for Aramco World, the Ford Foundation, and others. He also lived there while on two Fulbright fellowships. In 2001-2002 he worked across South Asia on an Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship, photographing the so-called winners and losers in India’s globalization. His earlier self-directed photo essays, disseminated in magazines, newspapers, exhibitions, books, and most recently on the web, were funded by fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation’s Program of Research and Writing on International Peace and Cooperation and the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Councils on the Arts. His project on the pesticide poisoning of California farmworkers was funded by a National Press Photographer’s Association grant and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday Magazine.

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