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“I always thought that America would be the one to start this,” says the Dutch filmmaker and media artist Babeth VanLoo. “This” is the first, and to date only, independent broadcast channel in the West airing Buddhist programs via a country’s public broadcasting system. Today, a decade after BOS—Boeddhistische Omroep Stichting, or the Buddhist Broadcast Foundation—was set up in the Netherlands, the United States still has not picked up on the idea.
Based in Hilversum, a town near Amsterdam that is the country’s media hub, BOS officially went on the air in January 2001. Scheduled into its one-hour weekly broadcast slot are 30- and 60-minute films covering dharma teachings and teachers, as well as Buddhism’s interface with the wider culture. (BOS also broadcasts over the Internet and carries radio programs and the youth-centered BodhiTV in Dutch.) For VanLoo, a cofounder of BOS and its programming director, the channel’s most important role is not to present films about Buddha-dharma but rather those “made in the spirit of Buddhism” by filmmakers who are themselves practitioners. She calls this “deep television”—reflective programs that “give time to a story” and offer viewers an immediate, even transforming experience as an alternative to the shallow, escapist “infotainment” that dominates mainstream media in Europe and the U.S.
A striking redhead who looks years younger than her age—she’s 61—Van- Loo arrived at the Tricycle office last March wearing a stylish black skirt and black-and-silver twinset—and cowboy boots. This wink at convention seems perfectly in character once she unwinds the narrative thread of her life. Although Buddhism is now seamlessly woven into VanLoo’s professional as well as personal biography, it was film that captured her attention first.
Raised in Maastricht, a city at the southernmost tip of the Netherlands, near the Belgian and German borders, VanLoo left home at 17 to study architecture, then art, in Germany. At the Dusseldorf Academy of Art she studied “social sculpture” with Joseph Beuys, an influential avant-garde artist who viewed art as inseparable from everyday life—and as a vehicle for transforming society. Beuys remained a major force in VanLoo’s work even after she moved to the U.S. to continue her studies: he was the subject of her first films of note, made while and after she earned a master’s degree in film and fine arts from the San Francisco Art Institute.
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