January 18, 2017

By Max Asaf

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Who would think that the way to finally get your family talking about mental illness would be to sit them in front of a camera and start rolling? That’s exactly what Dinesh Das Sabu did in Unbroken Glass, his new documentary from Kartemquin Films. 

After living his entire adult life without ever talking with his siblings about his mother’s suicide, Dinesh felt that 20 years of silence was far too long. It was time to start talking. He was overwhelmed with the thought of bringing up his family’s unspoken history with schizophrenia, especially considering the massive cultural stigma attached to mental health in the South Asian community.

So, Dinesh decided to film the conversations, using the camera as an excuse: “The camera gave me a lot of courage because, with the camera there, it became a project—a way for my family to talk not only amongst themselves but also to the public.”

Mental Illness in the South Asian Community

In the Asian-American community, there is a need to address mental illness. According to The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, Culture, Race and Ethnicity, suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, compared to the ninth cause of death for Caucasian Americans. In addition, Asian American women have the highest suicide rate among women over age 65 as well as the second highest among women 15 to 24.

Even with all this, Asian Americans use mental health services at about a third of the rate of white Americans.

In South Asian culture in particular, mental illness is viewed as a defect with one’s character and soul, making those living with mental illness feel far too much shame to ever seek help. Even if South Asians and Asian Americans move past the taboo, NAMI Multicultural Mental Health Facts show that multicultural communities don’t have access to the right resources, as cultural and language barriers stand in the way. 

Breaking the Stigma with Unbroken Glass

Dinesh’s hope is that by sharing his family’s story, by showing real scenes of a South Asian family intimately discussing these often-off-limits issues, his film will allow Asian communities to acknowledge the reality of mental illness. Even though stigma (at times) appears to be unbreakable, it is essential to take the first step and start a conversation. Once the stigma is broken, more and more people can feel empowered to seek out help and tell their stories. 

Unbroken Glass is one of those stories.

Watch a trailer for the film here: https://vimeo.com/183053024

And for updates on screenings and to schedule a screening near you, visit http://www.unbrokenglassfilm.com/screenings/


Based in Chicago, Dinesh Das Sabu is an independent documentary filmmaker who recently completed his first feature-length documentary. Dinesh learned vérité cinematography from legendary Kartemquin Co-founder Gordon Quinn. His completed cinematography credits include American Arab and Waking in Oak Creek. Dinesh holds a black belt in Tomiki Aikido and rides a Triumph Bonneville in his free time. Dinesh graduated with honors from the University of Chicago in 2006. In 2014 Dinesh was awarded a fellowship from Firelight Media’s Documentary Lab. In 2011 he was a finalist for the prestigious Edes Prize for Emerging Artists. Unbroken Glass is his directorial debut.

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