Two weeks ago, I attended the third annual SikhLens Sikh Arts and Film Festival in Orange, California (held during November 16 to 18). It was my first time attending this event, and I enjoyed the showcase of artistic talent presented. Newspapers India Journal and India-West provide thorough summations of the festivities from the opening night gala to the closing showcase concert and the scholarship projects behind the films (in collaboration with Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts), however I wanted to extend my own appreciation and congratulations to the organizers for what is truly a wonderful showcase of and for our community.
As a member of the audience, I appreciated the films made by, for, and about Sikhs around the world, and the display of literary and musical talent as well. Sikh history is full of such artistic heritage (indeed, the Sikh scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib, itself is a work of literature and musical composition), however it is often under-recognized. It was inspirational to see the venues through which many Sikhs are expressing themselves in non-traditional careers and pursuits to represent our community and its issues.
As organizer Bicky Singh stated to India-West, this festival fills a void for the Sikh community:
“I personally believe content is king. Sikhs are not getting enough films from India,” the Indian American organizer said. “Bollywood does not produce…Sikh-centric content.”
Musician Neelamjit Singh Dhillon, who performed at the event, describes its value to artists as well:
“It gives us a lot of strength. It validates what we do,” Dhillon said. “The vision of the festival is so great that it brings so many people together who otherwise probably wouldn’t have a chance to interface. It gives us (as artists) more strength to know we’re a community and we’re forging forward.”
This event was personally memorable for a variety of reasons. Of course, I marveled at the performances and was touched by many of the films. Moreover, I can now say I made actor and designer Waris Ahluwalia laugh, and did same alongside centenarian marathon runner Sardar Fauja Singh. I had the opportunity to meet the artists known as the Singh Twins, whose painting “Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the Princes” I’ve had as a print for almost a decade. I also enjoyed the chance to listen to noted Sikh author Dr. I.J. Singh speak in person, whose essays I have been reading since the late nineties. And, finally, I was happy to acquainted and re-acquainted myself with many friends in the Sikh American community.
The atmosphere at this event was very positive, collegial and welcoming, and I look forward to attending the festival again next year.