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Sikh Arts and Film Festival (SAFF) hosted by SikhLens is where Sikh-centric art meets actualization, where Sikh filmmakers, musicians and artists voice pride for their heritage and culture while mingling with entertainment industry notables for three days of intense showmanship.

“This oft popular, standing room only festival has drawn artists such as Parvesh Cheena and Guru Singh, filmmaker Mandeep Sethi and rapper Jagmeet Hoodini Singh, among many Sikh luminaries” SAFF co-chair, Ravin Kaur Kohli stated. Industry insiders with ties to film schools, various public relation firms, independent filmmakers as well as film executives are also frequent panelists or guests of the event.

Although themes have often varied from a range of issues from farming to women’s issues, the brutality of suffering the disproportionate brunt of post 911 hate and discrimination faced by the Sikh community who at times see themselves as the “minority within the minority” has also sustained through the years, adds Kohli.

This year is no different, as apart from the overall high energy of the festival, attendees will also mark a solemn homage and tribute to the victims of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple shooting on August 5 when gunman Wade Michael Page, an army veteran shot and killed six people and wounded four at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Attorney General Eric Holder labeled the attack as “an act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime.”

The festival will open with a packed agenda, which includes clustered viewings of short non-feature films, artwork, and fashion designs punctuated with live musical performances. Select film students will also reap rewards for their efforts. SAFF, through many of its generous benefactors awards sumptuous scholarships up to $10,000 to film school students. Six awards were presented in 2011 and the winning films will be viewed by the audience this year. The evening will be capped with a crowd favorite dessert and dance reception.

The second day of the festival will feature films and books created by children.  Since 9/11, turbaned Sikhs children in the United States have also been subject to racism. “Stand Out and Stand Up” by J.J. Singh, 12 is one of the many short films featured at SAFF which poignantly draws attention to what it feels like to look foreign and be bullied and teased for one’s distinct appearance.

Additionally, an interactive “Creative Sikhs” panel composed of artists who perform live at the festival will also open discussion on their experiences and struggles with audience members.  A feature film presentation will be presented by the evening’s end.

In 2011, SAFF hosted the USA premiere of the Bollywood-Canadian feature film “Breakaway” which was met with great reviews as the first “Sikh on Skates ice-hockey comedy” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Social dilemmas should open paths to discussion and solutions and SAFF will not leave its audience gaped in bewilderment past some of its emotional laden line up. The final day of the festival will focus on issues afflicting the community and seek to understand the impact of 9/11 and the Wisconsin Oak Creek tragedies in the past decade. The last day will also feature movies with Sikh based themes from around the world.

A panorama of talent will converge in a 1.5 hour finale concert called Sikhlens Showcase featuring artists such as Mandeep Sethi, Gunjiv “Baagi” Singh, Jagmeet “Hoodini”, Jas Ahluwalia, Kamaljeet Ajimal under the guidance of producer Tej Gill.

SAFF receives roughly 150 submissions yearly encompassing short films and feature films, books and art out of which 25-30 works are selected.

Home-made as well as well budgeted films such as “Kisaan” and “Breakaway” have won stamps of approval from a “dedicated screening committee for each segment of the festival” according to Kohli.

SikhLens was established in 2009, but it was approximately 15 years ago that founder Bicky Singh, a software entrepreneur and an art collector by hobby, decided to explore the idea of mainstreaming Sikh history and culture. Singh would later win large support for this idea and armed with a small group of volunteers began the cultural venture.

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

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