Movie preview: Edmonton filmmaker explores diversity in Brothers in the Buddha

Michael Nguyen, left, then a 17-year-old student at McNally High School, is featured in the film, Brothers in the Buddha. Photograph by: Supplied

Michael Nguyen, left, then a 17-year-old student at McNally High School, is featured in the film, Brothers in the Buddha.
Photograph by: Supplied

BY JODIE SINNEMA,
EDMONTON JOURNAL DECEMBER 4, 2014

Movie preview: Edmonton filmmaker explores diversity in Brothers in the Buddha
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EDMONTON – When Beth Wishart MacKenzie taught world religion at the University of Alberta, she visited a local Buddhist monastery and decided a film about an aspiring monk could educate Edmontonians about the diversity within.

Her locally shot and produced film, Brothers in the Buddha, follows Michael Nguyen, then age 17, as he goes between meditations at the Truc Lam Monastery on 97th Street and 113th Avenue and chemistry classes and basketball games at McNally High School in Forest Heights.

Wishart MacKenzie’s film explores how Nguyen knew he wanted to become a monk and wear yellow robes at age five, eventually moving from Toronto to Edmonton at age 10 to study under Thay (or Master) Phap Hoa.

“He chose that himself. That’s what was fascinating to me,” Wishart MacKenzie said. Nguyen is the only child of Huong Tran and Dy Nguyen, boat people who escaped Vietnam and Communism in 1981 to start a new life in Canada. The couple had a difficult time saying goodbye to their son when he joined the monastery and agreed to never marry. Buddhist monks must look after all citizens, without prioritizing family, the film describes.

“It was a way to expose people to the practice of Buddhism as it’s taken shape here in Canada,” Wishart MacKenzie said, noting that her former university students were hungry for information on different religious systems in the world.

“Our public school system doesn’t promote education in religion very much and so a lot of people come out of high school, not ignorant, but not understanding what has drawn people across the centuries to these traditions. It’s important to understand them for understanding dynamics in our present world, history and politics. So this (film) might end up being a tool that could be used by educators to introduce the tradition in a very personal way.”

Wishart MacKenzie said she’d like to do a series of films on different religions.

“The whole world is here,” said Wishart MacKenzie, who works for Film and Video Arts Society Alberta. “We don’t have to go to India or China or wherever to see how these traditions are practised.”

Her previous films were 2011’s Gently Whispering the Circle Back (a documentary on how healing circles address trauma from residential schools) and 2009’s Unforgotten (the story of a cowboy near St. Paul who builds Red River carts).

A question-and-answer session after Saturday’s screening with feature Wishart MacKenzie, Michael Nguyen (who leaves for France after Christmas for further training as a Buddhist monk), Thay Phap Hoa (master of Edmonton’s Truc Lam Monastery) and other local monastics.

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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