In the last post (May 7, 2010), I referenced the film The Little Buddha, in light of the fact that the post focused on a monastery that was featured in it. I then realized the whole arena of Buddhism and Film that I hadn't really touched on yet in this blog, except for the post on Dogville, exploring what I saw as a current of the bodhisattva ideal at work in some of it's character development.
Hollywood has done it's fair share of touching, interesting and even epic looks at Buddhist tales- clearly Scorsese's Kundun is the first thing that probably comes to mind. Yet, today I learn of an entire festival dedicated to bringing together and showcasing Buddhism on film: The International Buddhist Film Festival.
Among the films, all with a focus on some aspect of Tibetan Buddhism and which were shown for free at the Smithsonian Institution in March of this year, is the The Ceremony of the Vajra Crown, an Academy Award nominated film that was shot at Cathedral of the Woods in New Hampshire. The Ceremony of the Vajra Crown documents an empowerment ceremony conducted by the Karmapa and having been shot in 1980, is perhaps one of the earliest films documenting Tibetan Buddhist experience and ritual in North America.
Viewing the roster of the other films takes you on a global tour of successful efforts to document and share various aspects of Buddhist communities, practices and the many and diverse geographies that wind their way into the tale of the Vajrayana's global path.
Prior International Buddhist Film Festivals and various film showings were held in (to mention a few locales) Mexico City; San Francisco; New York City and Singapore. The first festival of this kind was held in Amsterdam. Program director Babeth VanLoo is quoted on the IBFF website as saying:
“What’s special about the feature films we will present is that they are not only about Tibet, but they have been made by Tibetans and/or the cast is for the most part Tibetan. After the first wave of Hollywood films using Tibetan themes, this is new.”
Indeed. In fact, not only are they cast in supporting and major roles, but have come to also serve critical roles in production.
In the rich and increasingly extensive dialogue about the 'presentation' of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, the conversation ranges from analytical, academic insights and debating to very pedestrian discussions about the ways in which symbols and aspects of this culture are transmitted and accepted on this continent. From Hollywood portrayals and other media depictions, to it's presence as a vital and growing spiritual and religious culture among Tibetans and non-Tibetans alike- the questions raised and the ensuing conversations are often quite interesting.
And there's few better ways to capture the attention of an information and media saturated society than through the dynamics of film. As our choices in media consumption seem to expand at a hurtling rate, the discussions revolving around how are awareness of a spirituality, a religion, a philosophy (whatever it may be) is both shaped and presented through a particular medium, this becomes an increasingly relevant dialogue. Being a lover of film, I for one see it as a form of both art and social engagement merged and at work.