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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Golden Premiere - Sacramento


Lieutenant Governor CRUZ BUSTAMANTE hosted the formal California premiere of Divided We Fall a few steps away from our state capitol tonight. Beneath the great dome of the Secretary of State building, hundreds of people mingled, holding plates of Indian food, waiting for the doors to open for the premiere. The Lieutenant Governor came to welcome us and express his excitement about the film. (Spot us in the crowd...)

We had first met Cruz Bustamante last October at the Spinning Wheel Film Festival in Los Angeles. There he had seen our film trailer and promised to do everything he could to get Divided We Fall to audiences. One year later, thanks to the skillful organization of Ravi Kahlon and Kiranjit Kaur in his office, he was hosting our California premiere.
Once the theater doors opened, we flooded into the auditorium. There were rows of plush red seats and a stage with blue curtains that parted for the movie screen. More than 300 people filled the seats, stood in the back, and sat on the steps.

The Lieutenant Governor took the stage to recognize the sponsors of the event and then give us a glowing introduction – he commended my courage for beginning the journey and Sharat Raju’s talent and vision as a filmmaker for finishing it. He also honored my parents - who were in the audience - for supporting our project, even when it took us into danger. It was the most incredible introduction Sharat and I have received on our film tour.
He then presented both of us with a Resolution he had passed on the floor of the legislature - one that formally recognized the film and its message. I felt so deeply honored that for once I found myself speechless when the microphone was handed to me. I found the words to thank him.
The resolution made out in my name read:

Whereas, I am delighted to honor and commend Ms. Valarie Kaur for her tireless efforts in creating the documentary film of the plight of Sikh Americans post 9/11 living in the United States; and

Whereas, the film Divided We Fall follows Ms. Kaur’s journey as she drove across the country in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, documenting stories of hate violence and discrimination towards Americans; and

Whereas,
Divided We Fall is the first feature documentary film to address hate crimes and hate violence in the aftermath of September 11, 2001; and

Whereas, Ms. Kaur has additional works that focus on stories of Sikh Americans, including her thesis, “Targeting the Turban: Sikh Americans in the Aftermath of September 11,” which won the Golden Medal in Humanities and became Ms. Kaur’s first written work on the experience of misrecognition in the aftermath of 9/11; and

Whereas, Ms. Kaur has written extensively about her experience and lectured at more than fifty conferences, film festivals, and community events around the country; now, therefore be it

Resolved, that I, Cruz M. Bustamante, Lieutenant Governor of the State of California, do hereby recognize and applaud the important contributions that Ms. Valarie Kaur has made to our Golden State and the nation in her efforts to educate the public about the Sikh Community.
It was a true honor for me to have the film recognized by the state of California, especially in a time when our stories are ripe for discussion in the mainstream American public.
After the film screened, the audience rose in a sudden heartfelt standing ovation. We thanked those in the audience who had seen the film to completion: Gurprit S. Hansra, who speaks about his meeting with President Bush in the film and believed in this project in the very beginning at a time when I was receiving little support. Harpreet Singh, a leader in the El Sobrante community who has worked hard to secure protection measures for local Sikh cab drivers. Pargat Singh, a wise elder in the Sikh community who told me his compelling life story, including the loss of fellow cab drivers in hate murders. Basim Elkarra, the Sacramento director of the Council of American and Islamic Relations (CAIR) who helped me understand the problems facing local Muslims.
The Q&A began with a question from a little girl in the front – how were you before you made the film, and how were you after? It was the most difficult question I had to answer, one that I’m still figuring out. Never had I imagined that the film would be recognized by officials and policymakers as vital to the discussion on diversity and respect in my home state.

As the discussion continued, we heard voices from the Japanese American, Native American, Muslim and Sikh American communities, all drawing connections between one another’s struggles. Many people pointed to the ongoing violence - including the recent murder of an Afghan Muslim woman Alia Ansari in Fremont, whom many speculate was targeted for her veil.
Basim Elkarra, Sacramento director of CAIR, offered his deep-felt support for the film and its message. “I believe that your film will save lives. It has the power to change peoples' hearts and minds. The Koran says, if you save one human being’s life, it is like saving all of humanity.”
It was an unforgettable night.

Thank you to Ravi Kahlon, Kiranjit Kaur at the Lieutenant Governor's office for their incredible hard work. Also to Satinder Singh for his support! (Pictured left to right: Kiranjit, me, Ravi, Sharat, and Satinder).

[This entry is cross-posted at "Into the Whirlwind."]


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