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An Interview with Melissa Llarena

Jun 2, 2020

Punam Kumar Gill is a self-taught, award-winning independent documentary filmmaker, actor, model, and TV host. Today, she joins me on the show to talk about reframing how you think about courage and how she is working to grow the genre of healing journalism. Plus, she shares about her pivot to a documentary career and how she featured her father in her first film. She also leaves us with thoughtful advice, in these times of isolation, pick up the phone and ask your loved ones some of your most burning questions. You might be surprised by what can happen when you lead with your nose and your heart. This conversation with Punam is what we need right now.  Since we can’t go outside, we can go inside (of ourselves) to and expand and grow.

In Punam’s debut film, THE LESSON, she turned her Dad’s life story into an award-winning documentary, earning critical acclaim and garnering numerous awards and official selections at film festivals throughout North America and India. The story centered on her father, a monk-like man from India making a difference in Edmonton, Canada. It became an immortalizing portrait and heirloom when her father passed away unexpectedly, shortly after the film was made.

Since then, Punam also released a feature-length documentary HUSH that is critically acclaimed – it is a 2-hour television special about one of the most controversial issues of our time: abortion. It is the most comprehensive journalistic work ever done on the subject, and the only one with both pro-life and pro-choice creative team members.

Punam has been a jury member for Canada Council for the Arts, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, The Calgary Foundation, and an AMPIA Board Member. She is a Chatelaine Magazine ‘Woman of the Year’ nominee. Punam is also the TV Host of 2 award-winning food and wine shows, and received a 2015 AMPIA nomination for ‘Best Television Host’. She has written, produced, and directed seven documentary films.

Tune in to hear Punam’s thoughts pertaining to:

  • What has captured Punam’s attention to producing films and why she is drawn to misfits and non-conformist content. (2:57)
  • The idea that we are born unique and die as copies. (5:48)
  • Punam talks about her first film, which featured her dad, what it was like making a film about him, and how you can do a research project about a loved one too. (6:23)
  • Acknowledging that during COVID-19 kids are seeing the ups and downs of life. (10:05)
  • Punam shares her career journey and what led her to choose the ‘misfit’ route of becoming a filmmaker. (14:28)
  • There is pressure to conform and it is scary to step outside of it. (15:03)
  • Punam discusses her work on the best skateboard park in the world at the time, her first job in fundraising, and what it taught her. (18:11)
  • Her work on the World Skills Competition --- the best welder of Korea vs. Canada vs. the U.S. and proving to her parents they hadn’t wasted their lives on her. She then realized this experience and work needed to be a documentary,  to challenge beliefs of what makes an acceptable career. (19:02)
  • Punam talked to her boss about making the documentary and he seemed to have inner wisdom because he told Punam, “Eventually you’ll need to decide if you want to work here or be a documentary maker.” Punam shares how the identity of a filmmaker felt jarring. (21:47)
  • He was right, later Punam left her six-figure job, shed her power suit and security to work in film, where her first job was getting coffee and holding someone’s jacket. She loved it! (26:13)
  • The many other ways that Punam expresses herself. (28:32)
  • Punam describes how the business side of producing is a creative outlet as well. (28:47)
  • The golden thread in her work is “healing” – her films are meant to bring polar opposites together and allow us to soften our hard stance on things by about maybe 2%. (31:18)
  • Why Punam wants to create “healing journalism” as a genre. (32:06)
  • Uncomfortable conversations, the tests that come with pivots, and how they are all growing experiences. (32:24)
  • Having the capacity to strengthen your courage muscles so when the big stuff comes you have that inner strength to deal with it. (36:38)

I asked Punam, “What is your elevator pitch?” Hear Punam eloquently describe herself as a storyteller, what’s happening in the world, and how we need to build capacity on the inside to lead with courage.

Check out the links below: