Nilita Vachani has been a documentary filmmaker for over 30 years. She is also an author whose award-winning novel “Homespun” (2008) spans three generations of an Indian family and traces the lasting imprints of war and the quest for peace at levels at once historical and familial.
Vachani's feature-length documentary, “When Mother Comes Home for Christmas,” tells the story of the international trade in cheap domestic labor through the eyes of a Sri Lankan mother dispatched to Western Europe to take care of the children of others while her own grow up in orphanages.
Recently, Vachani turned to longform journalism to tell the story of Manju Das, an Indian housekeeper employed in a wealthy Californian suburb who was arbitrarily sent back to her country following a ten-year post after her multi-millionaire employer was arrested. What ensued was the largest insider trading trial in U.S. history. Swept under the rug was the employer's massive identity theft of his servant to hide money illicitly gained by selling clients’ confidential information to a billionaire hedge fund manager, information that was then traded inside. Appearing in The Caravan and The Nation, Vachani’s story about Das speaks to the long practice of exploiting domestic workers. The human rights of women workers from South Asia is one of Vachani’s standing commitments as a non-fiction artist.
Vachani’s current filmmaking project, “Reborn in Clay,” is about the coming together of art and science in a forensic sculpture initiative that restores the identities of victims of unnatural deaths who remain classified only by number in medical examiners’ offices across the country.
Vachani has a Master of Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and an MFA in Filmmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She teaches documentary filmmaking at the Tisch School of the Arts, NYU.
Co-sponsored by the Departments of Communication and Journalism, UMass Amherst; and the Department of Political Science, Amherst College.