SikhLens hosts a yearly art festival in southern California which I encourage anyone able to attend. Special guests were flown out from India and attendees made their way from England. This project is the seed for Sikh awareness and presence to a greater audience. 


The first two days of the event were on the campus of Chapman university, which is one of the top 5 film schools in the country. The events all start at Leatherby library at the Patron's night at the behest of the library dean Kevin Ross who gave a gracious talk about the long-term collaboration with SikhLens that have taken place. Assistant Dean and head of DEI initiatives Essraa Nawar also gave a talk where he spoke about how, from her background, she was unfortunately told Sikhs were questionable characters, until she met Bicky Singh and realized that's not true. Now she's also a friend and collaborator with SikhLens and appropriately professionally advocates for diversity and inclusion. [image of dean being presented with a calendar from Japneet Kaur.] This event was MC'd by Pavneet Mac and also featured a talk from SikhLens co-founder Gurpreet Kaur as well as an exhibition of art from Japneet Kaur. 

From there the attendees made their way to a banquet hall, the Fish Interfaith Center which features a beautiful art piece from different faiths including Sikh, with delicious Punjabi food. The event featured a talk from the dean of the center and interfaith advocates. A moving Punjabi play was performed by Davinder Singh and Only Kewal. 


Next day we had red carpet night at the Folino theater. Harjinder Singh spoke about the implications of AI and his son Jujhar Singh also gave a demonstration of AI animation based on Sikhs in live action film. 


Before his film, 'American Sikh' was featured, Vishavjit Singh spoke about what went behind making it. The birth of this film started from a SikhLens program for American film students called Project S (the 'S' stands for Sikhi). The student Ryan Westra went on to make several films surrounding Sikhs and from there he met Vishavjeet Singh. 'American Sikh' is also part of the 'Destination S' program from SikhLens. After four years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, 3 animations studios and passionate collaboration with his comrade, Ryan Westra, this charming and important film is now here. The film was lovely to see. It touches on heavy subjects like 9/11 and the violence against minorities that occurred in the US in its wake. Vishavjeet's story telling brings a disarmingly personable tone to sometimes heavy matters. He (as the narrator of his film) explains his crisis of faith and a personal spiritual experience that gave him the strength go embrace Sikhi again. Vishavjit has Oscar ambitions for this work, this is one not to miss so keep your eyes open whenever you are able to see this film! 

The next film featured at this event showed how Pakistani architecture student, Rubab Chishti, took it upon herself to restore a delipidated gurdwara that was created at a place where Guru Nanak had created a spring. The film, 'Connecting the Dots', was produced under SikhLens' Pakistan initiative. 


The feature length film at the event was 'Sarabha-Cry For Freedom', a biopic on the life of India independence freedom fighter Kartar Singh Sarabha. The film was preceded by a lifetime achievement award given to Kavi Raz the actor and producer behind the film. 

The next part of the event was held at Frida Theater in Santa Ana where both of their screen played Sikh films for two full days. There are too many to cover sufficiently other than the encourage everyone to attend themselves. There were several Q and A sessions where veteran an amateur film makers talked about the motivations and efforts behind their films.


All the creators have visionary talent here is a bit about one new face: Mariella Spagnolo. The journey to making a Sikh film for this New Jersey Catholic began by getting exercise with Bollywood dances. This led her to bhangra which she still practices (she sported a shirt during the event which says "I love bhangra"). From bhangra she learned about Sikhs and even though she doesn't intent to change religions she's learning Punjabi. Her film 'Desperately Seeking Sikh' is a dramatic short film where romance turns into educating a biased New Yorker on who Sikhs are. 

From important documentaries on exciting new farm initiatives in the Punjab to revealing happenings with Punjabi students in Canada there are too many films to be described. This only gives a bit of a snapshot. One must attend this event to see how much creativity and education. Don't miss the next one, you'll be glad you attend! 

The next art and film festival by SikhLens is next month in Seattle on Dec 1: 

Harijot Singh Khalsa

Harijot Singh Khalsa

Harijot Singh is a graduate of Miri Piri Academy. He serves as creator of SikhNet Stories. He has also authored several research pieces on Sikh history as well as offered encouraging messages through his articles.

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