Silent River Film Festival awards cinematic gold

In Arts & Entertainment, Film & TV

The inaugural award ceremony for the Silent River Film Festival was held in the Irvine Marriot Friday.

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, the Silent River Film Festival founder and director, worked to start the festival this year after she saw the serious lack of independent international film festivals.

Singh-Chitnis moved to America from India in 1994 after receiving a master’s degree in political science from Maghada University Bodhgaya. Upon her arrival, she realized that her passion was for filmmaking and enrolled in the New York Film Academy.

“I have two degrees,” said Singh-Chitnis. “I have a brain, so what should I do?” She immediately answered her own question. “I created an opportunity for myself and people like me.”

According to Singh-Chitnis, a huge part of the creation of the festival was because of her vision of bringing the East and West together. “No matter who we are,” wrote Chitnis in the program of the award ceremony, “where we are from, what our likes and dislikes are, what medium we choose to get our information from, cinema crosses all barriers and reaches out to its audience like no other medium can.”

The night was packed with surprises, including special musical guests Natalia Flores and Ronnie Sumrall, as well as performances by local cultural dance groups.

I Am Kalam, Wild Eyes: The Abby Sunderland Story, We Come From Jambiani, and Butterfly Circus took the top prizes of the night, the last of which was a short that received the Clint Eastwood New Filmmaker Award and has been picked up to become a full-length feature film.

The two highest acting honors were picked up by Michael McCallum and Elizabeth Moore for Fairview St, a film that was directed by newcomer Michael McCallum.

“This is for my parents, who let me put on little shows and make everyone watch and pay attention,” said Moore, one of the few who attended to accept her award.

At an international film festival, it isn’t uncommon for a large majority of the award winners to not be present. Many of the winners were from India, China, Mexico and other countries around the globe.

However, when young actor Toby Kebell, a thespian hailing from the United Kingdom, was unable to accept his award for Best Actor in a Short Film, it was because he is currently working with Steven Spielberg on another project.

A host of special awards were also given to a number of worthy candidates.

The River Glory Award, an award given to someone who has made a “valuable contribution to cinema as an art, a business and as a vehicle for positive change,” was awarded to Jon Fitzgerald, the creator of

The River Heritage Award, an award that recognizes “a film personality of Indian descent for valuable contributions to the art of cinema in the East and West,” was given to Babu Subramaniam of ER and Outsourced fame.

The River Spirit Award, an award created to recognize a person for commendable achievement and work of courage that resulted in a contribution to the art of cinema was given to Jean-Marie Benjamin and Abby Sunderland, the youngest girl to sail around the world upon whom the winning documentary of the night was based.

Possibly the most endearing moment of the night came when youngsters Ameer A Zhowandai and Hannah Sher approached the stage to accept Best Actor in a Short Film and Best Actress in a Short Film, respectively.

Their project Heal centered on Ameer’s character, who has been blessed with the extraordinary ability to heal the people in his native country of Afghanistan.

Heal identified one of the greatest themes of the night, the idea of bringing people all around the world together for a common goal of trying to inspire one another to create art despite their differences.

“I am proud to tell everyone that I have the best of both worlds, East and West, and that’s what I want to bring here,” Singh-Chitnis said.

From the spectacular food to the exotic performances, it proved to be a fitting end to the spectacular multicultural film festival.

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