By Jenniffer Weigel
Raising social awareness through storytelling is what excites filmmaker Gita Pullapilly. But it’s her ability to be a good listener that makes it all possible, she says.
“I remember when I was about 5 years old, my father would have people over for Indian food, and I would roam around the party and, for some reason, people felt safe enough to just talk to me about their most intimate secrets,” says Pullapilly, 37.
She was raised in South Bend, Ind., by teachers, her father Cyriac was a history professor at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., and her mother, Elizabeth, taught math at Clay High School. “This still happens to me wherever I go. My family calls it a gift.”
Raised as “one of the only Indian families” in her South Bend community, Pullapilly was also exposed to international travel at a young age, enlarging the breadth and types of stories she listened to.
“My dad did this program where he took students around the world, and I would always go along and write these stories down about these different people I would meet,” she recalls. “There was so much emotion in these peoples’ stories and I thought,
‘I want to be a storyteller.'”
Still, it was a degree in finance that she pursued from the University of Notre Dame in 1999. She was recruited by General Mills after graduation.
It wasn’t a good fit from the first day, Pullapilly said. “I knew I had to quit. For the three months that I sat in my cubicle, I thought, ‘Maybe I should focus on what I actually love and not what I can do to just make money.'”
Pullapilly earned a master’s degree from Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2001, and started a career in broadcasting. That got her closer to her goal, but the abbreviated format and style of broadcast journalism was far removed from the kinds of stories she wanted to tell.