Sept. 3 Drake benefit for doc highlighting domestic violence of immigrant women

After Pakistani immigrant Shahpara Sayeed was burned to death by her husband in his cab on the North Side of Chicago on Aug. 24, 2000, filmmaker Satish Menon was struck by the reaction Sayeed’s murder received in the news media.

“They had all these academics and experts commenting about why would this woman stay with her husband in an abusive relationship, why wouldn’t she leave?” Menon recalled.

“It occurred to me, if she leaves, where is she going to go? She probably doesn’t speak the language, has no money, and is condemned by her immigration status to remain in that relationship.”

Menon was compelled to shed light on the particular plight of immigrant women facing domestic violence, women who are often dependent on their husbands’ legal status in order to remain in the U.S. legally. Menon began reaching out to immigration and domestic violence organizations, gathering material for his forthcoming documentary “Lost Stories in Immigration: Survival on the Domestic Front.”

The new nonprofit media activist group The Lotus Rising Foundation hosts a benefit for “Lost Stories” at the Drake Hotel Sept. 3. Menon said he hopes the benefit will raise a third of the film’s projected $300,000 budget.

Menon has shot interviews with a number of local service providers, but he’s taking his time getting to the heart of the doc, selecting five or six women from different immigrant communities whom he will follow through their process of asserting legal and economic independence from their abusive husbands.

“I want to try to understand the struggle that these women go through, what strategies they employ to free themselves from the cycle of violence, and what kinds of support and resources are available to them,” Menon said.

“The situation for these women is at risk of getting even worse with recent changes in immigration policy,” he said. “The Patriot Act requires local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws, so now many immigrant women feel they can’t go to the police for help.”

Menon plans to complete a large part of principal photography by the end of the year, and target the project to immigrant communities, service providers and the general public.

“The Lost Stories” benefit is 7-11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 3 at the Drake, 140 E. Walton. Menon and producer Shruthi Reddy will speak, and Menon will screen his internationally acclaimed debut narrative feature, “Bhavum ? Emotions of Being.” Minimum donation $40 per person or three for $100; includes open bar and dessert.


– by Ed M. Koziarski,