By Janet Dyson

Alex Sangha (MSW’13) says he uses his Master’s in Social Work education every day — although lately in untraditional ways, like producing a new documentary about coming out as LGBTQ2SIA+ in conservative South Asian communities.

Emergence: Out of the Shadows is a feature-length documentary centering on the journeys of three people expressing their queerness, something that can be taboo and is non-traditional in Punjabi Sikh cultures.

“We made the film not to win awards or to get into film festivals,” Sangha explains. And yet, Emergence: Out of the Shadows is premiering at film festivals across North America. It has been accepted at Out On Film, an Academy Award qualifying festival, and qFLIX in Philadelphia. It has also been entered in the 2022 Canadian Screen Awards for Best Feature Documentary and Best Editing.

Sangha says what makes the film unique is it tells the story of Punjabi Sikh parents who come to their own terms and go through their own journeys of self-acceptance to accept their children.

“I had a very difficult time coming out and accepting my sexuality not only within the broader community but within my own Punjabi Sikh South Asian community. There are not a lot of resources in this area especially with Punjabi Sikh families.”

An educational message

It’s important to use it as an educational tool because education is where it all starts, Sangha says. “Kids are really vulnerable and queer kids are at risk of depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, racism and bullying.”

Emergence film poster

Film poster for Emergence: Out of the Shadows. Graphic design by: Vinay Giridhar

The film will be distributed through broadcast deals with OUTtv and educational institutes. A teacher’s guide accompanies the film for discussions in high schools and universities. Sangha worked with educators on developing and editing a guide that’s useful and accessible.

Emergence: Out of the Shadows follows the success of Sangha’s first short documentary My Name was January, a film memorializing his friend January Marie Lapuz, a transgender person of colour who was murdered at home in New Westminster, B.C.

Lapuz was the social coordinator at Sher Vancouver, the non-profit Sangha founded that provides wraparound services to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their loved ones in Vancouver, B.C., and was well-loved by colleagues. My Name was January was accepted into 66 film festivals around the world and won 14 International awards.

Transferrable skills

With previous experience in social work roles, such as the Child Services ministry, youth counselling, and working with adults with developmental disabilities or mental health challenges, Sangha found his social work skills transfer well to film production.

“It got me thinking about all the things put together…This is one of the reasons we never even put an expert in the film. Because I felt people who are sharing this story are the experts of their life and they are the ones who know what it’s like to be brown and gay and coming out and struggling in our community.”

Making an impact

Sangha works as a social worker, counsellor, documentary film producer, and head of Sher Vancouver LGBTQ Friends Society which is now a registered charity.

Living with bipolar disorder and challenges from medication, Sangha found the pace of a 9-5 job difficult. His current role gives him the flexibility to set a schedule that allows him to balance his health and continue work he is passionate about. Sangha now considers filmmaking especially an extension of his commitment to social advocacy, social activism, and social work.

“I am proud to be a social worker. I’m starting to find that you can have a lot of social impact through film and raise a lot of social awareness through documentaries.”