A socially conscious film festival

The living room of Kalpna Singh-Chitnis' Irvine condominium was filled with signs of pending deadlines Friday: yellow envelopes bulging with DVDs, trophies, stacks of brochures.

But the cluttered work area projected a joyous mood. In fact, it officially projected one.

Tucked behind Singh-Chitnis' kitchen table, the poster for this year's Silent River Film Festival displayed a couple on the beach, bathed in orange sunlight, with the man hoisting the woman above his head as she bends a knee and stretches out her arms. The image, taken from the film "Dead Drop," has become the logo of the festival because it expresses a simple theme common to many of the entries.

"It's joy," said Singh-Chitnis, the festival's founder and director. "It's about fearlessness. It's about precision. It's about vision. So this year's theme is this — what you see. You get the feel just looking at this picture."

There may be any number of crass, vulgar, high-octane Hollywood movies playing in Orange County this week, but Singh-Chitnis will pass on them. Her festival, founded in 2011, seeks to spotlight film at its most constructive: socially conscious documentaries, inspirational dramas, stories from parts of the world that seldom make it to an Irvine multiplex.

The Silent River Film Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the Edwards Westpark 8 theater and Irvine Civic Center, doesn't have any official criteria for selecting entries. Still, a couple of overarching themes run through the program. Every year, Singh-Chitnis and her fellow organizers emphasize both Eastern and Western films and put together a series titled "Cinema for Causes" that focuses on social issues.

Among the 83 films on the schedule are the documentaries "Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey," about an environmental crusade in the Himalayas, and "Dusty's Trail: Summit of Borneo," about a Newport Beach woman who raises awareness about muscular dystrophy. Proceeds from both films will go toward the causes represented onscreen.

The festival opens Thursday with an East-West pairing: "Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World," featuring Prince Charles, and "Josh (Against the Grain)," by Pakistani filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal. Sunday concludes with an awards gala and the Silent River Film Fair, a free event at the civic center featuring a panel discussion, screenings, exhibits and more.

Irvine Councilwoman Beth Krom, who has attended the festival in the past, said her city's multicultural flavor makes it an ideal setting.

"I think something like the Silent River Film Festival is perfect for Irvine because it does bring in the cross-cultural element, and Irvine is most certainly the most culturally diverse, thoroughly integrated city anywhere in the world," she said. "I hope that they get a good response and that it continues to grow."

That last part remains to be seen. In an area rife with cinematic showcases — including the Newport Beach Film Festival, Irvine International Film Festival and SoCal Film Festival in Huntington Beach — Singh-Chitnis has limited resources to get her own event off the ground.

With almost no financial sponsorship, she had to forgo a printed program for this year's event, and she's launched a campaign on the website Indiegogo to help raise funds (as of Friday, the campaign had netted $90 of its stated $15,000 goal).

Still, even if money is tight, Singh-Chitnis has met her goal of providing a forum for filmmakers — and getting the world to notice. Much of her office help, she said, has come from volunteers, some from well outside the hemisphere.

"I have people working in Australia and India, and how do they work?" Singh-Chitnis said. "We go on Skype and we have chat windows open where I sit, and four people, they just ask me what we need to do, and they do it."

If You Go

What: Silent River Film Festival

Where: Edwards Westpark 8, 3735 Alton Parkway, Irvine; Irvine Civic Center, 1 Civic Center Plaza

When: Thursday through Sunday

Cost: Varies by event; visit brownpapertickets.com/profile/356937

Information: (949) 394-5148 or silentriverfilmfestival.com

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