The Making Of
Filmmaker Tami Yeager talks about the difficulty of facing the emotional gravity of the film over and over, common misconceptions about Sikhs and the filming trickery of Rana’s youngest son, Deep.
What led you to make this film?
At the time of 9/11, I was friends with the film’s co-producer, Preetmohan Singh—a Sikh, who worked on behalf of his community in the days and years following the terror attacks to respond to hate crimes and civil rights infringements. Through Preet’s research and other friends’ accounts, I heard heart-wrenching stories of assaults against the Sikh, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. While I felt strongly that we shouldn’t sit by and watch as the hate crimes continued unabated and underreported, I assumed that somebody else would tell the story and that a national dialogue—spurred on by the media—would take place. But two years after Balbir’s murder, most Americans still knew little about this post-9/11 tidal wave of hate. It was at this point that I decided to contact the Sodhi family about making a documentary. Preet and a few other key supporters joined to help launch the project.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
As with any independent documentary filmmaker, I became consumed by the story. So, for me, one of the most challenging aspects of producing A DREAM IN DOUBT was facing the emotional gravity of the subject matter over and over. It was also challenging to try and tell the story from Rana’s point of view without painting Balbir’s murderer as a one-dimensional villain. We worked very hard to create a balanced of portrait of Frank Roque and the factors that drove him to kill Balbir. While making the film, there were also many unknowns such as whether we would be able to find the funding to finish the film and whether it would be picked up for airing.
How did you approach and gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
By the time I reached out to Rana Sodhi, he had already been interviewed extensively by local media and was very comfortable with the idea of being on camera. Two weeks before we spoke for the first time, Rana’s friend, Avtar, had been shot in a blatant hate crime. During the lead up to my call, Rana had once again found himself fighting for his community. Once we spoke, I think he and I both understood that the timing was right. Fortunately, Rana is a naturally trusting and positive person and I never sensed any concern on his part about me not being a Sikh. That said, my co-producer Preet and I had already collaborated to produce an educational curriculum about Sikhs (The Sikh Next Door), and that experience allowed me to better relate to Phoenix’s Sikh community.
In your opinion, what is the most common misconception about Sikhs besides that they are mistaken for Muslim?
I believe a common misconception is that Sikhs are assumed to be “radical,” “conservative” or “stiff” simply because of their uniquely distinctive appearance. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth because Sikhs are some of the most open-minded people I know. Another misconception is that women are considered inferior to men in the Sikh faith. In reality, Sikh doctrine clearly establishes women and men as equals.
What didn’t get included in your film that you would have liked to?
The “cutting room floor” is a brutal place because once you review the footage and determine the central focus of the film, you really have to let go of anything that detracts from it. In this case, I would have loved to include more footage and perspectives of the women in the family. But because A DREAM IN DOUBT is told primarily from Rana’s perspective, the women’s interviews became tangential. It was a little heartbreaking for me to make this decision, especially as a woman.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
A scene that has deep meaning to me is the presidential election exchange towards the end of the film. Rana (who wears a blue turban) and Harjit (who wears a red turban) argue over whether Democrats or Republicans would be better suited to fight terrorism. On one level, this was like any other living-room conversation in America, with families arguing politics. On another level, I found it really unique that the Sodhis were able to laugh about their party preferences as signified by the color of their turbans.
Were there any technical challenges you faced while shooting, and if so, how did you resolve them?
There were many technical challenges but one is particularly amusing and involves Rana’s youngest son, Deep. Two years into shooting, I was videotaping the family in front of the house while they installed surveillance cameras. At the time, Deep was a rambunctious six-year-old who loved to play around with my camera whenever I turned my back. Right before I started shooting, he set the camera for fluorescent lighting. After I finished shooting and realized the change in setting, I looked over at Deep, who acknowledged his role in the crime by flashing an adorable grin. Fortunately, it was an easy fix with some color correction, but if you pay close attention you can see that the hue in that scene is slightly green.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
One of the most important audience reactions I wanted to gauge was that of the Sodhi family. I was really relieved when they told me they feel it reflects their experience honestly, and gratified to learn that Rana believes that it will help prevent future hate crimes. Secondly, I was heartened by the audience response at film festivals. Since then, Preet and I have screened at college campuses and civic institutions such as the Woodrow Wilson Center in D.C. Our interactions with the audience have led to a number of important conversations about identity, immigration, justice and the American Dream. Fortunately, at each of these screenings, we have the opportunity to share ideas about preventing hate crimes and building stronger communities.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
I firmly believe that independent media has an important role to play in a democratic society. At the same time, it can be incredibly challenging to produce films when there is so little funding. For this project, I found a great deal of motivation from Rana’s incredible optimism and determination. I couldn’t really lose hope in the project after witnessing the resilience of a family that has experienced so much tragedy.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
From the outset, I wanted public television’s broad audience to experience the film. And to me, Independent Lens is the perfect venue on PBS because it has a phenomenal reputation, and programs like Community Cinema inspire the type of dialogue and action that I wanted A DREAM IN DOUBT to spur. Since my intentions with the film were to expose audiences to a community they may know little about and to be able to explore the subject of hate crimes in a personal and meaningful way, PBS and Independent Lens offered the perfect venue.
Is there anything else you’d like to share in this Q&A—interesting anecdotes regarding filming, a commonly asked question by audiences, etc.?
A question that is commonly asked to Rana when he attends screenings is why he doesn’t harbor vengeance. He usually answers the question by saying something like, “I may have lost my two brothers in this country, but I have gained 100 more because of the support we received.” This response usually leaves the audience stunned and reflects the optimism and perspective I have witnessed from him over the years.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
I didn’t get to adequately thank all of the people who put so much effort into helping me make this film, which is just about everybody I know and love. No joke.