Thursday, April 27, 2006

Catching up with myself

My it has been busy. I keep meaning to check in here to post my movements in the world of Warrior Saints, but then something else comes along and adds to the heap of news items to report. Finally I’ve decided to cut my losses and just list what I’ve done over the past month, just for the record. I can’t go into nearly as much detail as I’d like with each of them. Maybe this means I need to get involved in fewer activities so that I can get more out of the ones I decide to do?

There is no question that this project for me has made me more sensitive of the need to be mindful and conscientious about how one goes through life. That is perhaps the single most important tenet of Sikhism, because from that state of mind springs all kinds of enlightenment, goodwill and peace both inside and out. It’s a great state of mind to be in, and not one that happens as often as I’d like, at least with myself. But just typing these words helps me to get there. I can just recall the past month of activity and not feel compelled to write grandiose accounts of each thing I did to impress anyone who reads this. I can let them rest simply as markers of past experiences that I will always enjoy remembering.

First, to wrap up my March trip to San Francisco:

Friday 3/24 - Met Gagandeep and Mansheel Singh, two University of California Berkeley students who are fighting for their right to wear the kirpan, a Sikh article of faith on campus. Also interviewed Pritpal Singh, a Bay Area entrepreneur who is also an active contributor to the Sikh community.

Saturday 3/25 - Visited Yuba City California, the historical heartland of Sikh America. There, a kind gentleman by the name of Dr. Jasbir Kang showed me around and helped me to interview two people who are firsthand witnesses to the plight of Sikh Americans post-9/11. Gurpal Singh is a truck driver who was roughed up by the Oregon Highway Patrol when they suspected him of being a terrorist because of his turban. Harbans Singh is an 80 year old gentleman who was pushed off his bike and taunted by kids because of his turban.

Monday 4/10 - My brother competes on Jeopardy and pulls off an incredible comeback victory, thanks in part to a category called “Hide and Sikh”. You WILL get to watch this on my site – I’ll try to post it early next month.

Saturday 4/15 - Rajinder Singh Khalsa's daughter's wedding in Richmond Hill Queens, a gorgeous occasion – I may try to post photos later. The second Sikh wedding I’ve attended (and apparently not the last – I have a bachelor camping trip to attend next weekend and a bicoastal wedding in September).

Thursday 4/20 - Submitted a major proposal for funding – a real learning experience for me that changed my perspective on my own work.

Friday 4/21 - Spoke at the 2006 Ethnic Pen Conference at Bay Shore High School in Bay Shore, Long Island. Gurpreet Singh, a hate crime victim turned activist, presented DASTAAR to an auditorium of high school students and talked about his own experiences fighting intolerance. Met filmmaker Joe Fab, producer of the extraordinary documentary PAPER CLIPS, and received a lot of inspiring feedback from him on being a filmmaker.

Saturday 4/22 – Screened Dastaar at a Sikh Immigrant History celebration at the Queens Central Library in Jamaica, sponsored by the NYC Mayor’s office. Thanks Jaskaran Singh and United Sikhs for putting together such a successful event.

And this Saturday I am looking forward to the Annual Sikh Day Parade in New York City! Starts at noon, proceeding along Broadway from 40th St down to 25th St. Free food (Langar/ Community Kitchen) will be served to all. Be there!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Kevin on MTV Desi

Watch the video
Interviewed at the screening of DASTAAR at the 2005 IAAC Film Festival, Lincoln Center, New York

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Postponed notes post-SF Festival

So it's been over three weeks since the last time I checked in here on my own status. I seem to spend most of the time catching up with myself, esp. the last few weeks which have been very eventful.

The week of March 20th was a triumphant homecoming to San Francisco for the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival. Dastaar screened in a program called "Grassroots Rising" a collection of shorts depicting social activism campaigns throughout the Asian American community.

The other films were great:

Therese Thanjan's short WHOSE CHILDREN ARE THESE? enters the world of three South Asian youth navigating a post 9/11 federal program called Special Registration. The film is a deeply moving portrayal of how these young people deal with their unfortunate circumstances with wisdom and dignity way beyond their years.

Robert C. Winn's GRASSROOTS RISING takes a close look at the lives of immigrant workers from Asia working in Los Angeles. Revealing their heart-wrenching stories of abuse and tragedy, GRASSROOTS RISING shows how these workers use their experience to fight for justice in spite of the threat of imprisonment and deportation.

All the films received a tremendous response from the audience. Here's a picture of me unfortunately blocking Leslie Ito, producer of GRASSROOTS RISING. More visible are Therese and Robert handling Q&A:

Therese and Robert's films were sponsored in part through the Center for Asian American Media, the largest Asian America media organization in the country and organizers of the SF Asian American Film Fest. I had a good time meeting some of the Center staff and learning more about the opportunities for support provided by their Media Fund. One thing that's keeping me busy these days is funding proposals -- not much that's sexy to write about there, but that's what I'm doing.

Though I was busy with work, I did get to see a few other films while I was there. I got to rewatch THE CRIMSON KIMONO, a brilliant 50s detective move by the great Sam Fuller, starring James Shigeta in a rare Asian American lead performance, a cop who goes into an Othello-esque tailspin when he finds himself in love with a white woman. My favorite film of the fest was THE BURNT THEATRE, a beguiling blend of documentary and fiction concerning a drama ensemble in Cambodia struggling to find ways to pursue their passion after their theatre has burned down. LINDA LINDA LINDA was a really fun SCHOOL OF ROCK-esque tale of three high school seniors who form a rock band and set out to give a performance to blow the school's roof off. As my brother put it, no other film quite captures the feel of what it's like during one's last weeks of high school, marking time while trying to come up with one big way to leave one's mark. Lastly, I was really impressed by the festival's closing night feature, Ham Tran's JOURNEY FROM THE FALL, a gut-wrenching saga of a family torn apart by the Vietnam War. It was as powerful and accomplished as THE DEER HUNTER, only told from the point of view of Vietnamese who suffered through so much upheaval and bloodshed.

Big thanks to Chi-hui Yang and Taro Gato for leading the festival to another stellar year -- I'm really grateful that I got to take part this time.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Catch my bro on JEOPARDY! this Friday and Monday!

My brother William is competing on Jeopardy! this Friday (4/7) and next Monday (4/10). Check your local listings for channel (I think ABC carries it in most cities) and airtime (usually 7pm). New Yorkers can see it on WABC 7 at 7PM.

For the Monday episode (which according to my brother is one of the most exciting Jeopardy! games ever) I invite all those in NYC to join me live to watch it on a bigscreen TV and help me cheer him on (the show is pre-recorded but hey, any excuse to cheer is a good one). Apparently all my documentary work in Sikhism helps him pull off a stunning comeback when he unexpectedly lands on the category "Hide and Sikh" (I kid you not). You have to see it to believe it.

I'll be at Samplings Bar + Restaurant, at the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 48th and Broadway, next to the Hershey Store. Take the 1/9 to 50th, N/R/W to 49th or B/D/F/V to Rockefeller. I'll be there starting at 6, the show comes on at 7 - hope to see you there!

Reviews of Dastaar, Warrior Saints trailer and Langar Seva

Some of you may know that I have long been a regular visitor to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) Message Boards ( To my surprise, this week Chris 435, one of the most longstanding and well-respected contributors to the boards, posted reviews of my documentaries on Sikhism. I had forgotten that I had sent him a DVD months ago - but I knew that he had a longstanding affinity for docs so I wanted to get his feedback. Here it is:

"Dastaar: Defending Sikh Identity (2004 directed by Kevin Lee), Langer Seva (2005 directed by Kevin Lee), and Warrior Saints(2005 directed by Kevin Lee) are all concerned with Sikhism. I would imagine that few people in the United States actually know any Sikhs, but I'm not one of them. There are two Indian restaurants in the city where I live. The one I prefer serves beef, which prompted me to ask the woman who runs it if she and her family were Sikhs. It turns out that they are. They come from the Punjab region near the Golden Temple. This explains, somewhat, why an Indian friend of mine prefers the other restaurant--it's closer to the cuisine he's used to ("just like mom used to make it," he says). I preface this because my favorite of these three films, "Langer Seva," concerns itself partly with food. There is a variety of food being prepared in this film, and every so often I would spot a dish that I know. The film depicts the preparation of "blessed" food for all comers in honor of The Guru, but it's really a vehicle for Lee to question his own methods of filmmaking. He's uncomfortable with an aesthetic version of quantum mechanics: the act of observing changes the conditions of what is observed. Lee is also at the mercy of his guide, who he suggests is the REAL director of his film. He chooses to forego the food all around him, which is a shame. There were some good eats at that festival. "Dastaar" is closer to home: a depiction of the Sikh experience in New York after 9/11. It doesn't cast a favorable light on the toleration of Americans, nor of their general education, but that should come as no surprise to anyone who lives here. Ignorance, it seems, is only slightly less common in the universe than hydrogen. Alas. "Warrior Saints" makes use of a lot of the material from the other two films and tends to recap their main points--but fills it out with some background information on Sikhism. The main attraction of this film--apart from the prospect of a much longer, more in depth film down the road--is the voice it gives to Sikh women."

Thanks Chris! Hope I can send more your way in the near future.