Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi is an excellent documentary and cautionary tale. It tells the story of a Brown University student who went missing in 2013 and how he was wrongly accused of being one of the Boston Marathon bombers. The film is a sensitive one about an amazing character and a sad indictment of social media and how a vocal few could turn into digital vigilantes and participate in a crazy witch-hunt.
The film is directed by former CNN journalist, Neal Broffman and written by Heather O’Neill. It is a story with lots of layers and depth. At the start we meet the family and friends of Sunil “Sunny” Tripathi. We learn that he was a kind person, talented musician and an intelligent student. He loved playing the saxophone and learning about philosophy. A beautiful portrait of him is developed through a series of home videos and photographs.
Sunil had difficulties at university and many believe he was suffering from depression. In March 2013 he left his apartment in Providence and he vanished. His family and friends launched a search party and reached out to people through social media and traditional broadcasters in order to find him. Sadly, this was largely to no avail.
On April 15 2013 the Boston Marathon bombing occurred and Tripathi’s elder brother and sister were there supporting a friend. Shortly afterwards the FBI released two blurry photographs of the suspects. An individual on Reddit falsely accused Tripathi as being one of the individuals in the pictures and all hell broke loose. The family were harassed by hungry journalists seeking an exclusive and the internet turned into the Wild West full of racist taunts and threats. The individuals online made huge leaps and presented unsubstantiated claims as fact and basically tried to punish Sunil even though we are supposed to treat individuals as innocent until proven guilty.
The filmmakers were unable to interview any of the people who wrongly accused Tripathi so this film can be a tad one-sided. But they do interview two representatives from Reddit and the users who made those hateful and ignorant comments have their writings shown in graphics that punctuate the film. The bloodthirsty journalists who left voicemails in the early hours of the morning are also represented through the audio they left on the Tripathi’s phones.
This story ultimately shows us the real Sunil Tripathi. He was an innocent, articulate and loving young man who was unfairly subjected to mob mentality and digital vigilantes. This is ultimately an emotional, thoughtful and important tale that will leave you frustrated and sad about our broken system and the internet in general.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi screens on 18 September as part of the Sydney Underground Film Festival. For more information and tickets please click HERE.