Films like Kundun, Little Buddha, and The Cup have shown that Buddhism has box-office appeal. Now, a new crop of features and documentaries is poised for theatrical release, fresh from the first International Buddhist Film Festival, held last November at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (see www.ibff.org). Coinciding with a major exhibit, “The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art” (see page 102), the festival was organized by the Buddhist Film Society, a Berkeley, California-based not-for-profit set up to increase awareness of the Buddhist experience.
Four thousand people came from around the world for the four-day, fourteen-film event. Among them was Dzongsar Khentsye Rinpoche, the Bhutanese lama and director known as Khyentse Norbu, whose first full-length film, The Cup (1999), was an international success. His second feature, Travellers and Magicians (2003), is the first movie ever shot in Dzongkha, Bhutan’s official language. It had its U.S. premiere at the festival, as did Words of My Perfect Teacher (2003), a documentary by Leslie Ann Patten that follows Khyentse Norbu from London to Bhutan. Asked what he had found most surprising or revealing about Patten’s film, Khyentse Norbu said, “I’m surprised how I still need to dent the bumper of vanity.”
Words of My Perfect Teacher is an often hilarious look at this remarkable lama through the eyes of three of his Western students: a Canadian computer scientist, a British tarot-card reader, and Patten herself, an award-winning American filmmaker now living in Canada. An enjoyable, multicontinent roller-coaster ride, the film offers an interesting commentary on the cultural, psychological, and, at times, spiritual divide between East and West. At one point, Khyentse Norbu comments:
When you don’t have obsessions, when you don’t have hang-ups, when you don’t have inhibitions, when you’re not afraid you’ll be breaking certain rules, when you’re not afraid you won’t fulfill somebody’s expectations, what more enlightenment do you want? That’s it.
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