In an age where we are being defined more and more by our social media presence, Neal Broffman’s Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi is a timely and cautionary tale. The documentary exposes how easily one’s narrative can be taken over and reshaped by others online.
Broffman’s film explores the mysterious disappearance of Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who vanished from his apartment only one month prior to the Boston Marathon bombings. By all accounts Tripathi was your average American student. He loved his family, had a passion for the musical arts, and believed that everyone should find something they enjoy doing and work towards excelling at it. However, Tripathi developed a depression that his family could not seem to steer him out of. Unreceptive to the numerous family interventions and pleas to seek professional help, he left his apartment one night without any warning.
Much of Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi focuses on the desperate search efforts of Tripathi’s family and the university community. Fearing the worse, they searched all over town, established Facebook and twitter pages asking for information about his whereabouts, and attempted to reach out to local media. The latter of which did not seem that interested in the name Sunil Tripathi until after the bombings took place.
Interspersing voicemail recordings from numerous media outlets (The Associated Press, CNN, Bloomberg News, etc) attempting to get in touch with Tripathi’s family, Broffman’s film truly comes alive when it exaimes the domino effect caused by a series of seemingly harmless user comments that popped up online in the wake of the bombings. When the FBI release the blurred images of the, then unknown, bombing suspects, the internet was in a flurry of chatter and speculations. Amateur sleuths online and media outlets were all trying to figure out who were the two men that had left Boston paralyzed in fear. However, when a few individuals on Reddit mentioned that one of the assailants resembled Sunil Tripathi, it triggered an avalanche of speculation and accusations that not only overshadowed the Tripathi family’s search, but also uncovered the powerful and ugly nature of social media.
Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi captures the terrifying mob mentality that the online world perpetually fosters. Facts no longer matter in a sphere where retweeting something is viewed as instant validation. Broffman’s film details the vast leaps in logic between people online saying Triapthi resembling one the suspects to the world believing Triapathi was a terrorist who bombed the marathon. The most disturbing thing about all of this is how legitimate media outlets, who should know better, forgo basic researching practices and proceed to report unverified information as fact. By hearing the painful events recounted straight from the Tripathi family and those involved with the search, Broffman effectively shows that every action in the online world has real human consequences. Things that are posted on the internet last forever. Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi reminds us that we all need to be more mindful of how we process information online and the ways in which our cyber footprint can inadvertently impact the legacies of others.
Wednesday, April 29, 7:00 PM, ROM Theatre
Thursday, April 30, 11:00 AM, Isabel Bader Theatre
Saturday, May 2, 9:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Hot Docs website.