The Sikh International Film Festival returns to New York City this weekend after a two-year pandemic hiatus. A total of 17 films centered around Sikh history, diaspora, and innovation will be showcased at Manhattan’s Rubin Museum this Saturday, November 12, and guests are invited to celebrate at an afterparty at the museum from 8pm onwards.
Established in 2004 in Chelsea, the Rubin Museum specializes in Asian art from the Himalayan region. The festival, hosted by the New York-based Sikh Art and Film Foundation since 2009, has previously been held at the McGraw-Hill Conference Center, the Paley Center for Media, the Asia Society and Museum, and the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts.
Teji Bindra, co-founder of the Sikh Art and Film Foundation, explained the distinction of the Sikh experience beyond the general envelopment of Indian art and films, shedding some light on why such a delineation was relevant.
“The differentiation is there because sometimes, especially in the West, Sikhs have been misunderstood,” he said, alluding to the treatment of Sikhs in the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and other notable instances of Sikh discrimination in Europe. “This is a way for us to bring about better awareness of what Sikhism stands for, and to build bridges around the world.”
Of the 17 films included in the festival, five of them are centered on the nuanced experiences of the Sikh diaspora in France and the resounding impacts of the nation’s 2004 ban on conspicuous religious articles of clothing in public schools. One film, TurBAN, follows lawyer and activist Ranjit Singh in his quest to have the ban overturned so that French Sikhs wouldn’t have to choose between their heritage and their education. “The Sardar of Conde-Sur-Vire,” a film by Rishabh Thakkar, highlights specific vignettes from the life of Vivek Singh, a Sikh man who moved to France for higher education and married a French woman. Thakkar’s film focuses on Singh’s experiences with discriminatory behavior, micro- and macro-aggressions, and finding the inner power to make a better life for Sikhs in France.
“France is not an easy place,” Singh says in the film. “Not only do you have to learn French, but you have to literally become French. Everybody around you is making you look different. But that is your strength.”
Some films delve into Sikh futurism and environmentalism as well. “Powering the Gurudwaras of Punjab with Solar Energy” (2022), a documentary film produced by Sikhlens, encapsulates one of several humanitarian efforts in community-wide sustainability orchestrated by Punjabi Sikhs to lower their carbon footprint by installing solar panels on prominent gurudwaras (Sikh temples) across the state. Silver Lining (2022), a collaboration between Sikhlens, Bicky Singh, and Ojaswwee Sharma, follows the United Sikh Mission’s commitment to improving eye healthcare provisions across rural Punjab.
Bindra was most excited about sharing the feature presentation, “Guru Nanak in Afghanistan and North-West Frontier Provinces” (2021), one of 24 installments in a docu-series. The film chronicles Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, and his travels across West, Central, and South Asia to spread the spiritual insights of oneness and creation beyond gender, religion, and caste.
Single-session tickets for the film festival are $10, and an all-day pass with afterparty access is $30; tickets can be purchased here.
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