Kitri Sundaram, Levin-Hokin Premium, 2021

Creating one’s first short film, approximately a half-hour in length, with a deadline in three months, during a pandemic, is not something I would normally recommend to anyone. But this was my fourth semester working with Kitri Sundaram, and with each one, she grew immensely as a screenwriter, and repeatedly impressed me with how creative, versatile and skillful she is. So I was curious… How would she pull this off?

 

Answer: Extremely well – no surprise! She hit the ground running, quickly choosing a topic for a documentary, and then diving into research and production. She watched personal/essay documentaries by Alan Berliner and Nina Davenport, and absorbed aspects of each that would help guide her. The result of her intensive production and post-production process is her thesis film Oma & Ammu, a portrait of her remarkable grandmothers.

 

Kitri’s “Oma” grew up in a Bronx housing project with her three siblings and widowed mother. She met her husband in college, and between having their fourth and fifth child, decided to attend law school – flouting almost everyone’s idea of what she could be. Kitri’s “Ammu” grew up in India and defied her parents’ wishes by secretly applying to medical school. Rather than marrying the man her parents had chosen for her, she fell in love with a fellow student, married him, and moved to the United States.

 

Both grandmothers disregarded limits others placed on them, persevered through sexism and, in Ammu’s case, racism, and thrived in their professions. Kitri interweaves telling details and entertaining stories from both women’s lives, and deftly uses photos, home movies and archival footage to help depict their worlds.

 

Not only did I get to see how Kitri would handle her first film under challenging circumstances, but the film itself also provides great insight into why she is so fearless and capable.