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Location: PAHS: PAF 2006

Documentaries/ Film festival at Punjabi American festival on May 28th, 2006 - The Widow Colony and Sikhs in the City

Feature presentation: The Widow Colony: 70 minutes

The Widow Colony accesses the living conditions of the widows and the orphans, of the Delhi Pogroms of 1984, where thousands of innocent civilians were brutally murdered with the help of the Government.

The interviews with the widows reveal that even though they have learned to continue on with their livelihood, a large part of their psyche remains trapped in 1984. With their families torn and traumatized these widows and children live in a segregated ghetto of New Delhi, Tilak Vihar. They have been fighting for justice for 20 years and now their children fight with the problem of drugs and unemployment. The perpetrators of these crimes remain free, the victims remain forgotten. This documentary was recently premiered in New Delhi and very received by non Sikh intelligentsia of India

'Punjabi Cab' exposes bigotry's mean streets

Americans reacted to the horrific tragedy of Sept. 11 with an astonishing range of emotions and actions. Oakland filmmaker and freelance cinematographer Liam Dalzell picked up his camera.

Stunned by the brutal post-9/11 killing of a Sikh in Arizona and a rash of shootings aimed at Bay Area cab drivers, the 33-year-old Stanford film-program graduate set out to explore the Sikh community. He zeroed in on three Sikh Bay Area taxi drivers and immersed himself in their world. The resulting short film, "Punjabi Cab," screens today at the Film Arts Foundation Festival of Independent Cinema at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco.

Dalzell, who came to the Bay Area by way of India, Ireland and New York, took a moment to answer some questions about documentary filmmaking and "Punjabi Cab."

Q: Where are you from originally?

A I'm from Ireland, but it's kind of a complicated story. I was born in India and I grew up there until I was 14. I did high school and undergrad in Ireland, and then I moved to the States -- moved to New York, and then tried for the Stanford program.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your background in film?

A Sure; there's not much to it. I'd always been interested in film as a consumer and documentary film in particular.

Q: Why documentary film?

A Because it's a very sort of direct way of opening up the imagination, and I've always been interested in how people on the peripheries of culture observe and separate the culture they're living in. Documentary film is a very immediate way of doing that when it's done well.

There's as much drama in documentary and there can be as much art in documentary as in any other kind of filmmaking. There are no limits in documentary film really, and it's a shame that it has this kind of stigma of being just merely educational. It can do so much more. It can be as moving and imaginative as any art form.

Q: How did you decide to become a documentary filmmaker?

A It occurred to me after watching a film that maybe I could be doing this. It's so easy now to make your own film -- the cameras are cheap, software is available. And so I made some short films ... just kind of recreationally, and then enjoyed it so much, I thought I really could try and make a living in film. It's then that I applied to the Stanford film program. The whole process of discovery took a few months.

Q: What was the film that inspired you?

A The film is called "Time Indefinite" by Ross McElwee, and it was only kind of accidental that it was that particular film. That's not necessarily one of my favorite films, but there's something about that sort of personal insight. The other very appealing thing to me is that you can sort of be the primary filmmaker -- it can be your thing. You can sort of just make it with your hands.

Q: Was that the case with "Punjabi Cab"?

A Yeah! It was my thesis film at Stanford. All of the thesis students at Stanford are required to direct, produce and edit their own films, and most people shoot their own films, too, which is what I did. It's kind of a one-person operation, so it's kind of a craft that way.

Q: What was the inspiration behind "Punjabi Cab"?

A I was living in New York on 9/11. By that stage, I felt that New York was my home. New York reacted to that event in a way that was sort of unique. It felt like the rest of the country reacted kind of differently, and in New York it was mainly grief rather than anger.

It was right after 9/11 that a Sikh man was shot outside a gas station in Phoenix, Ariz., and it was amazing to me, given all the grief that I saw, that there could be that kind of anger and that kind of ignorance. That struck me as an important story and it had always been in my mind. I was researching my thesis project and there was this spate of shootings of Sikh cab drivers in the Bay Area, and that story of how the Sikh community is being treated suddenly became urgent to me, so that was the inspiration.

Q: How did you approach the people in your film?

A That was so easy to do. I just went to a cab stand at the BART station and they just grew immediately welcoming, interested and supportive. It was the easiest thing to me. I met a lot of them and made some good friends.

Q: What has the response been to the film?

A So far, very good. It's still an important consideration, how minorities are treated in this country given the current situation. I'm going to be having some screenings in the Sikh temple in El Sobrante in November and they seem very warm and supportive. ... I plan to distribute the film to whoever finds it useful. It's been getting into festivals and there's been some interest, which is nice.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

A That nobody can claim to be free from prejudice, and that all communities have an identity and a voice, and that we should be careful of that and the judgments we make. It's just amazing how subtle prejudice is and how damaging ignorance can be.

Sikhs and the City

Category Factual & Arts

There are enough Sikhs in Britain to fill the Royal Albert Hall one hundred times over.
Many wear brightly coloured clothes, play loud sacred music and never cut their hair, yet little is known about their teachings and culture.  Narrated by Goodness Gracious Me star Kulvinder Ghir, Sikhs and the City offers a rare and entertaining day-in-the-life snapshot of one of Britain's biggest, but least understood, faith communities as they celebrate the 400th anniversary of their holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
Striking a balance between a Sikh identity and a British one is an issue that affects scores of Sikhs in western society every day.

Sikhs have a strong moral code and an identity which is exhibited through what are known as the five K's - long hair, a comb, a sword, the wearing of a bangle and a specially-tailored undergarment.  For some this strong identity is at the heart of their Sikhism while others take a more relaxed approach, believing it is what is on the inside that counts.  

PC Harvinder Singh Rai, an officer with West Midlands Police, thinks he has got the balance just right: "I am fiercely loyal as an officer to West Midlands Police but I am equally at home with my faith. They are in perfect harmony."  The programme follows PC Rai on his beat as he deals with troublesome schoolchildren and as he gives his fellow officer a taste of the Sikh faith at a local temple.  Radio journalist Sonia Deol's version of Sikhism is far less strict than her mother's. She cuts her hair and wears modern clothes but for her being a good Sikh is all about the values she holds within.  This is also true for Sikh scholar Jeevan Singh Deol, who says his identity is western but his religion is Sikhism.  In contrast Sikh comedian, Sody Singh Kahlon, believes abandoning the Sikh identity is going against the teachings of the faith itself.  For others being a Sikh in modern society doesn't mean abandoning one for the other.  As a 93-year-old marathon runner, Fauja Singh is a traditional Sikh. But he is also a 'poster boy' for the latest Adidas campaign.  The twin artists Amrit and Rabindra Singh reflect in their work the dual cultural heritage that many British Sikhs have grown up with.  The programme also explores the saint-soldier tradition which is at the heart of the faith, the reason why Sikhs carry short swords and why all Sikh men are given the name 'Singh' - meaning lion.  Having started the day at 5.00am with prayers, the programme closes as the Guru Granth Sahib - which is treated as though it were a living guru - is placed tenderly back into its four poster bed for the night.

Sikhs and the City - BBC



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