The Sikh Coalition Diversity Video Competition

Sikh Coalition Diversity Video Competition 2012 FlyerThe use of social video sites by our community has seen an upward trend. Of course, many readers of this blog will instantly recognize individuals that have emerged in the last two to three years using YouTube and other social media sites – Mandeep Sethi, Humble the Poet, JusReign, and IISuperwomanII are but a few of the commonly recognized names from North America alone.

As it becomes more accessible, we are also seeing the emergence of more grassroots-level use of social video. This medium has allowed Sikhs, and particularly Sikh youth, to express themselves to an unprecedented audience size, and there are several organizations encouraging Sikhs to make use of this platform.  For example, SikhNet has been running their Youth Online Film Festival since 2006, and the Sikh Coalition is also holding their third annual Diversity Video Competition for its third consecutive year.

Recently, Manbeena Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s Education Director, was good enough to answer some questions  about the use of social video for the purposes of Sikh education and awareness.

This is the third year that the Sikh Coalition is holding the Diversity Video Competition. Could you tell us a little behind the DVC – when did it start, and what is the idea behind it?

MK: The Diversity Video Competition started in the summer of 2010 and actually evolved from the Diversity Essay Competition that the Coalition initially held in 2004.  The reason we switched gears from essays to videos is because film is more easily accessible to a wider audience.   Since the topic each year focuses on an issue that resonates with any Sikh, we know we can use these videos in our education and awareness-building work.  In addition, the impact of these pieces is on-going through YouTube, the Sikh Coalition’s website, and through other film festivals that premiere these videos.   Finally, the video competition provides not only the Sikh community, but the general public an opportunity to be more creative and allows filmmakers to express their point of view in a variety of ways.

The need for education and diversity appreciation has never been more crucial, given what took place in Wisconsin only a few short weeks ago.  Incidents of hate only further underscore the need to have more resources, more visibility, and more education about respect for diversity in this country.  The Sikh Coalition’s Diversity Video Competition is just one way that we hope to do that.

Why a video competition? What are the benefits of this medium?

MK: The Coalition has found that by disseminating videos that portray the Sikh American experience, it has helped non-Sikhs understand who Sikhs are, and what Sikhi stands for.  Besides adding the top videos to our growing YouTube collection, the Coalition has utilized these videos in our education work to bring more widespread awareness about our often misunderstood group.

In fact, we have frequently shown last year’s 3rd place winning video, “Neel”, when we do presentations to educators about how bullying affects students.  After seeing the film, teachers have remarked that the film really helped them understand what bullying against Sikh children can look like, and that it’s not just harmless taunting.  Through this video, we’re helping teachers understand the difference between teasing and bias-based bullying.

By watching films about the Sikh experience, and specifically, the day-to-day life of a turban-wearing Sikh, we are hoping to dispel misconceptions people might have about the turban, and the Sikh community in general.

The film-makers who help tell these stories also enjoy multiple benefits.  First, the competition provides them with a creative outlet with which they can share their point of view on the given topic.  The Coalition understands that people can be very creative through film, when given the opportunity. Every year, we are more encouraged to continue the competition when we see that there are so many young adults who have submitted videos.  In addition, the film-makers receive exposure for their work.  In the past two years, over 1500 public votes were cast to determine the 1st place winning video.  That means 1500 people watched the competition’s top videos, and hopefully, learned something new about Sikhs.

What was the response to the competition in its first year? 

MK: We found that Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike were very excited about the competition.  In fact, 2010’s winner was a first-time filmmaker.  Chandani Kaur Kohli, the creator of “Elephant In The Room”, said that she “fell in love with the process from directing to editing” and has since created several other short films.  It was also amazing to see how many people approached this competition from different angles.  In the last two years, we’ve received videos that use the following styles: narrative, action, documentary, and animation.

How does the Coalition decide on topics for each year’s competition?

MK: Each year’s topic is selected after careful consideration.  In the past, the Coalition has consulted with our expert judges’ panel, Coalition staff and interns, as well as marketing experts and accomplished filmmakers to determine which topics would both 1) educate the general public about Sikhs in a positive way and 2) be feasible for a filmmaker to depict in 5 minutes or less.  Sometimes the topic is selected due to a heightened public interest around a given issue.  For example, last year’s topic focused on bullying in schools because that was a “hot topic” at that time, and we wanted to include the Sikh experience in this dialogue by showing videos that portrayed what bullying looks like against Sikh kids.

What makes a good video? Are there elements that you are looking for?

MK: Filmmakers should keep in mind that since we want to use the winning video in our awareness-building work, it should depict the Sikh experience (what it feels like to wear a dastaar) accurately.  Humor and creativity are definitely encouraged, and can be incorporated into the film without losing the authenticity of the piece.

Videos will be judged on the following criteria: Message, Quality, Creativity and Originality, Versatility, and Requirements.

The number one reason that a film does not pass the first judging round is because it did not address the topic! Film-makers, if you’re reading this, please carefully review the topic this year and create your film accordingly.

This year’s judges include Dr. Paul Johar, JusReign, Kevin B. Lee, Tej Singh Hazra, and Manbeena Kaur.  We are very lucky to have this group of exceptionally qualified judges review the videos for this year’s competition.  Some of them have played leadership roles in various Sikh film festivals while others are adept at shooting and editing their own films.  We are grateful to the Sikh Art and Film Foundation for premiering the 1st place winning video at their New York City film festival every year.

Who is eligible to participate in the Sikh Coalition’s competition, and where can interested people get more information?

MK: We are asking all veteran and aspiring filmmakers to submit a video to this year’s competition.  The deadline is September 30, 2012 and there is no age limit to participate.  We’ve also expanded competition rules this year to allow multiple people to film, edit, and submit a video together.

To learn more and apply, please visit:

Thanks to Manbeena Kaur for taking the time to answer these questions and for providing more information. Looking forward to seeing an inspirational crop of videos for this year’s competition!

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