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What generates a sense of community? Food, culture, a place to mingle, and sometimes a common cause. The Sikhlens organization wanted to add one more dimension, a platform to present and promote. The Sikh Arts & Film Festival was created to give Sikh artists, or artists who create Sikh-inspired art, a central venue to showcase and share their talents. It’s an arena for these artists to display work they are passionate about, books, movies, music, and art that they have often spent years working on, and connect with and inspire the community.

The festival also aims to create awareness for the Sikh faith through art as a pure and unbiased medium. Sikhs have faced discrimination and difficulties post-9/11, and the organization hopes to garner positive recognition in the local and national communities through the universal language of art.

The luminary visiting the festival this year will be world-renowned and iconic marathon runner Fauja Singh. At 100, Singh is currently the oldest person to complete a 26.2-mile marathon, securing a place in the Guinness World Records. He has been a brand ambassador for Adidas, has dined at Buckingham Palace, and has been a relay torchbearer for the 2004 Olympics.

Other highlights will include the “Creative Sikhs” program, where two separate panels of up to six successful performers/artists will perform live at the festival, in addition to discussing their experiences and journeys. The performers include Agam Darshi (Kate Freelander in SyFy’s “Sanctuary”), violinist Raginder Momi, artist Mandeep Sethi, artist Rupy Cheema Tut, and comedian Jus Reign. The opening night celebration is studded with a series of short films and live entertainment, concluding with a reception and dancing. Guru Singh (Ajeet in NBC’s “Outsourced”) will be the emcee.

The screening room features films such as Boldá, the story of “the invisible, spiritual connection” between two Sikh sisters living in two different parts of the world, and a documentary, Humble the Poet, that outlines the success of the Sikh-Canadian part-time rapper/third-grade teacher who became a Youtube sensation with his 2008 “Voice for the Voiceless.” Lending relevancy to the festival’s aim to dismantle stereotypes is a viewer’s post: “The beard caught me off guard. … After I looked past that, I realized the guy actually has lyrics.”

Along with others, the book Turbaned Tornado:The Oldest Marathon Runner Fauja Singh will be presented by author Khushwant Singh, who’s also authored Sikhs Unlimited, which showcases the lives of 14 Sikhs in the U.K. and the U.S. Khushwant Singh will be doing a Q&A session on the “Sikhs Across The World” panel (to be confirmed).

Sikhlens started three years ago by a dedicated group of volunteers who have been involved with arts and film within the Sikh diaspora in Southern California for over a decade. The 2011 festival seeks work from artists in a variety of fields including, but not limited to, film, literary, music, art, social media, and fashion. It strives to create an opportune avenue for this work to be shared with the rest of the world with the aim of gaining exposure for the artists while creating unbiased awareness about Sikhs.

A testament to the community support Sikhlens is driving and inspiring are the numbers and domains of the festival attendees. Last year’s opening night gala was sold out with over 550 people in attendance.  Over the entire weekend, about 700 people attended the festival from the East Coast, India, Canada, and Europe. A philanthropic chapter was added recently; Sikhlens now offers three scholarships to Chapman University Film students. Grants to promote the arts within the Sikh Community will be announced at this year’s festival as well.

Nov. 18-20, Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Chapman University, 283 N. Cypress St., Orange. For tickets and detailed program, go towww.sikhlens.com.

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