Silent River Film Fest Makes Noise with Movies About Animals, the Ecology and the 99 Percent

Kalpna Singh-Chitnis says the hardest part of staging last year's first ever Silent River Film Festival was mounting the sequel, which is scheduled for Thursday through Sunday in Irvine.

Dealing with programming, logistics and clashing personalities in your first year is one thing, but now that the newness has worn off finding the time, energy and passion to do it all over again has been daunting, explains the poet, actress and filmmaker.

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She's discovered you not only have to pick your battles but times to interact with a media that can help promote an ambitious event that brings 80 "hand-selected" films from 30 countries to Edwards Westpark 8 theater, informative seminars to Irvine City Hall and after parties to hotels and restaurants throughout that city and adjacent Tustin.

Case in point: we chatted on the phone while she was driving to Pasadena for a radio interview, and what began as opportunity to set up a future talk about her event evolved into a full-blown interview of its own.

Her underlining goal, she says, is to bring East and West together through cinema, educate everyone from the masses to thought leaders about challenges all over the world and spotlight the independent artists who are living them and then reflecting them through their work.

As was the case last year, this year's fest has a charitable outreach, with 2012 "Cinema for Causes" films and documentaries focusing on human rights, the environment and the humane treatment of animals.

Indeed, Singh-Chtnis pleaded with me that if what you are reading now mentioned nothing else, it would be Sunday's 1 p.m. presentation of and educational seminar preceding the film How I Became an Elephant. Learning more about the documentary, it becomes clear it perfectly represents the Silent River Film Festival and what Singh-Chitnis has been striving to achieve for two years now.

How I Became an Elephant follows the amazing journey of Juliette West, a 14- going on 35-year-old teenager in Pacific Palisades who decides she wants to learn more about the majestic mammals. That takes her to Southeast Asia, where West meets "The Elephant Lady." Exposed to the mistreatment of the beasts, West goes from inquisitive schoolgirl to tireless advocate for elephants.

The film will play a central role in the "Cinema for Causes" seminar that begins at 10 a.m. Sunday at Irvine City Hall. Panelists include West, Singh-Chitnis, How I Became an Elephant producer Debbie Pagell and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) activist Haydon Hamilton. Proceeds from the sale of tickets, which range from $5 to $22 depending on whether you are also attending the doc's screening at Westpark, will be shared with an elephant sanctuary in the Chiang Mai province of Northern Thailand.

But Pagell will not be the only How I Became an Elephant producer in Irvine on Sunday, as fellow producer Jorja Fox of TV's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation fame is presented the festival's "River Glory Award" for her longtime animal and human-rights activism. The honor will come at an Irvine Marriott gala that begins with red carpet arrivals and cocktail partying at 6 p.m. and the main program at 8 p.m.

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