Priyali Sur is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker reporting on social and development issues with a focus on gender rights. A 2014-2015 Fulbright Humphrey Fellow, Sur is a consultant for the World Bank and director of the film ‘sahbak.’ She has also given a TEDxFulbright talk called “Gender equality – A man’s fight as well.”
When Priyali Sur attended her Fulbright orientation program in 2014, everyone told her that her Fulbright year would be lifechanging. She was a bit skeptical at first. But by the eighth or ninth month, she says, she started to understand what those people were talking about: “It’s such a holistic process that by the time you’re finishing it, you feel how you’ve changed as a person, professionally and personally. Your ideas in life become clearer… you become more focused on what you want to do.”
Sur came to the U.S. from India and was a Fulbright Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow from 2014-2015 at the University of Maryland. The Humphrey Fellowship is designed for mid-career professionals, who complete specialized non-degree programs at selected U.S. universities. Already about a decade into her journalistic career when she received her Fulbright grant, Sur took courses in conflict resolution, peace negotiation, and journalism at the University of Maryland; and produced a report on the disproportionate impact of climate change on women in collaboration with the Woodrow Wilson Center. During her Fulbright year, Sur also began working with the World Bank in Washington, D.C., focusing on gender issues.
Gender rights, and, more broadly, marginalization, have been driving impulses throughout Sur’s career. “Whatever the marginalized population — be it by religion, or race, or any other category — women and children in that category are double marginalized. I feel like I need to tell their stories a little bit more.”
She’s done just that, through her extensive work in print and video journalism and documentary filmmaking. Sur began her career in television at CNN IBN in India, where she produced half-hour documentary programs, hosted a breakfast show, and won three national awards for her reporting. She is a contributing writer for the U.S. Women’s Media Center, where she works on Gloria Steinem’s reporting project to amplify the voices and stories of women around the world. She is also the director of the 2017 documentary ‘sahbak,’ which was released this spring. The film’s title means “friend” in both Hebrew and Arabic, and the documentary focuses on the complexities of friendships and relationships in the Israel-Palestine conflict by telling four unlikely, trans-generational stories of friendship and love between Israelis and Palestinians. Among them are the friendship between a 99-year old Israeli woman and a 79-year old Palestinian woman who have been close confidants for nearly 5 decades, and the marriage of an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim living in Jerusalem with their infant son. In preparing for the film, Sur conducted in-depth research on the region, working with nonprofits in the area and meeting with journalists reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict. She found that these stories — these friendships and relationships that cross borders, religions, and political ideologies — are rare, but that they do exist, and explored over ten of them before selecting the four stories that ultimately came together to create her powerful film. ‘sahbak’ is currently screening across the country. To learn more about the film, or to arrange a screening in your area, visit www.sahbak.org.
As for her Fulbright experience, Sur recognizes that it did change her life and perspectives, and instilled in her the confidence to pursue projects that are meaningful to her. “What [Fulbright] did was give me the confidence that I can be independent, I can be entrepreneurial, I can go out on my own.”