Award-winning documentary filmmaker comes to UCSD

The critical gender studies department will host a screening of the award-winning documentary “”When Mother Comes Home for Christmas”” May 15 in the Price Center Theater. The documentary tells the story of a Sri Lankan woman who works in Greece to support her family in Sri Lanka.

Courtesy of UCSD Interdisciplinary Studies

In addition to viewing the film, guests will get to meet the filmmaker, Nilita Vichani. Before she arrives Wednesday, let us introduce you to the woman behind the movie.

Guardian: Tell me about yourself. Where did you go to school and how did you get into filmmaking?

Nilita Vichani: I grew up in India — in Assam, Calcutta and New Delhi. I studied literature in New Delhi as an undergraduate and wanted to be a journalist and a writer.

I came to the United States to [attend] the University of Pennsylvania as a graduate student of communications. In my first semester I took a documentary workshop and we saw these films that completely blew me away. “”No Lies,”” “”Chronique d’un ete,”” “”Glass”” … I had never seen films like these.

I realized that documentaries could combine writing and poetry with painting in time, and very sound sociology. I decided this is what I wanted to do.

Q: How did the idea for “”When Mother Comes Home For Christmas”” come about?

A: I was living in Athens, Greece in the early and mid-’90s. Athens is not a very multicultural city. Being South Asian, I always felt like an outsider.

On weekends, however, I would see the city’s complexion change entirely. The Athenians would disappear to their weekend resorts and Athens would become peopled by immigrants: Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Ethiopians, Pakistanis.

I first became friends with a Sri Lankan woman named Maria. My natural curiosity got me talking to her and before long, she was telling me her remarkable story. She had been living in Athens for 15 years as an illegal migrant and her work was to take care of the then-97-year-old ex-admiral of the Greek navy who was confined to his wheel chair. With her work in Greece, she was supporting 19 children and grandchildren in Sri Lanka!

Through Maria, I discovered an entire community of Sri Lankan women living in Greece. This led me to a natural question: If the Third World woman is no longer at home, what happens to [the home]? Who takes care of her children?

Q: Could you comment on the challenges of making films that deal with such unsettling issues?

A: There are many fine documentary filmmakers who manage to make their films without getting emotionally involved in their characters’ lives. For me, this has always been an impossibility. That is the only difference I can think of between being a socially conscious documentary filmmaker versus a socially conscious fiction filmmaker.

Q: What is happening now with the people who were in the film?

A: Josephine’s dream of buying her house and living together with her children never came true. Instead, she spent the money she had saved for the house in getting her daughter Norma across to Greece. Norma’s life is now sounding more and more like her mother’s. She has left a 2-year-old behind; for how long we do not know.

Q: What was the most important thing you took away from making the film?

A: What I’ve learned from every film I’ve made: No matter how much I research, I will never know what I will find.