Category Archives: Films

Paths of the Soul review: Blandly soothing, apolitical Buddhist ‘documentary’ quickly wears thin


Pilgrims on the 1200-mile trek through the Himalayas to Lhasa in Paths of the Soul. Photo: China Lion Entertainment

Sydney Morning Herald
OCTOBER 18 2017
Jake Wilson

PATHS OF THE SOUL ★★
(PG) 120 minutes

If you’ve never pondered the literal meaning of the word “kowtow”, you may have something to learn from the new film by Chinese director Zhang Yang (Shower), which follows a dozen or so Tibetan villagers on a 1200-mile pilgrimage through the Himalayas to Lhasa, as is Buddhist tradition.

This would be an arduous trek under any circumstances but, adding to the challenge, every few steps the pilgrims must drop onto their stomachs and touch their foreheads to the earth.

To protect their bodies, they wear leather aprons and have wooden boards strapped to their hands, generating a noise like the clicking of castanets. In the absence of a conventional score, this becomes central to the film’s soundtrack.

The pilgrims in Paths of the Soul, to protect their bodies, wear leather aprons and have wooden boards strapped to their hands. Photo: China Lion Entertainment
Paths of the Soul is not quite fiction, not quite documentary. Reports indicate that the journey we see is real, and that the non-professional cast members are playing versions of themselves.

But it also appears that Zhang has manipulated events in the manner of a reality TV producer – ensuring, for example, that a pregnant woman (Tsring Chodron​) was part of the group in order to build a sequence around the birth of her child.


Pilgrims on the 1200-mile trek through the Himalayas to Lhasa in Paths of the Soul. Photo: China Lion Entertainment

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‘The Departure’: Film Review

The Hollywood Reporter
‘The Departure’: Film Review
by Frank Scheck

10/13/2017
Lana Wilson’s documentary centers on a Japanese priest who specializes in suicide prevention.
Most people would probably be reluctant to answer a newspaper ad reading “Monk wanted. No experience necessary.”

But fortunately, that’s exactly what the subject of Lana Wilson’s new documentary did. He’s Ittetsu Nemoto, a 44-year-old Japanese former punk rocker and troubled club kid turned Buddhist monk who has made a specialty of counseling depressed individuals contemplating suicide. In its poetic portrait of a man whose quest to help others has cost him dearly both emotionally and physically, The Departure proves quietly profound. Wilson, who previously co-directed the acclaimed documentary After Tiller, handles the emotional subject matter with a subtle restraint that makes the film all the more moving.

Eschewing narration or commentary by anyone other than Nemoto, the film has a Zen-like quality that would be soothing if the subject matter were not inherently disturbing. One of the most powerful scenes shows a session conducted by Nemoto with a group of depressed people. He instructs them to write down on small slips of paper the things they love most in life, then the names of three loved ones, and finally three things they’d like to experience but haven’t. Close-ups of the slips of paper reveal some of the answers including “love,” “food” and “travel the whole world.”

Nemoto than asks them to crumple the first three slips of paper into a ball and throw them away. Then the next three and then the final three. He tells them that this represents what dying will be like, the loss of everything they’ve known and loved. Then they lie on the ground, cloths on their faces, as he quietly rings a bell in a symbolic representation of death.

The film depicts several of Nemoto’s interactions with the people he’s counseling, the camera discreetly looking away at the more intense moments of their anguish. It soon becomes clear that the stress of his calling is exacting a toll on Nemoto, who seems to be constantly on call; at one point he receives a text message reading simply, “I want to die.”

“I take on so much of their suffering. I can never show them how draining it is,” Nemoto tells his wife, with whom, like his infant son, he spends too little time. We learn that his health is precarious, with blocked arteries that aren’t being helped by his excessive drinking.

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Despite the nobility of his calling, Nemoto never comes across as a saint. Indeed, he had deeply personal reasons for what he does. Midway through the film, he explains that when he was in the fifth grade a beloved uncle committed suicide. During his high school years, two close friends did the same. He became determined to change the trajectory of his life after he experienced a traumatic motorcycle accident in his twenties.

“I don’t want to have a long life just for the sake of it,” Nemoto says. “A short life can be meaningful, too.” The Departure beautifully illustrates just how meaningful life can be.

Production companies: Drifting Cloud Productions, Roast Beef Productions, ITVS, Candescent Films, Artemis Rising Foundation
Distributor: Matson Films
Director-producer: Lana Wilson
Executive producers: Sally Jo Fifer, Lilly Hartley, Jeffrey Tarant, Mike Lerner, Diane L. Max, Regina K. Scully
Screenwriters: David Teague, Lana Wilson
Director of photography: Emily Topper
Editor: David Teague
Composer: Nathan Michel

87 minutes

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The Venerable W.

The Venerable W.
NYFF 2017 Review

Independent; 100 minutes
Director: Barbet Schroeder

Written by Siddhant Adlakha on October 16, 2017

When attempting to parse the root causes of religious extremism, a common argument in western discourse involves not only pointing to Islam as an inherently violent ideology, but to Buddhism as its polar opposite; a dogma so rooted in peace and non-violence that it could not possibly result in terror. Of course, these arguments are rarely in good faith, and they are un-attuned to the full scope of the global refugee crisis and its long, macabre history. The Rohingya displacement in Myanmar has seldom touched their borders. Such is the limitation of the western lens, but it’s a lens that French director Barbet Schroeder puts to tremendous use in The Venerable W., a chronicle of our modern extremist and “fake news” climate delivered in a highly concentrated dose, so much so that its New York Film Festival screening had to be prefaced by the short film What Are You Up to, Barbet Schroeder?, in which the director explains why he felt compelled to make it.

This year’s New York Film Festival line-up (described by The Village Voice as “counterprogramming”) is rife with stories adjacent to worldwide migrant crises, but where Schroeder’s documentary deviates from its peers is its choice of subject. It is not a film about the victims of Buddhist extremism, though it most certainly makes their voices heard. It isn’t even about the perpetrators of Myanmar’s anti-Muslim violence, even though there is disturbing footage of them a-plenty. No, The Venerable W. is a film about the hateful ideologies that precede said violence, focusing almost entirely on the perspective and rhetoric of a young Theravada Buddhist leader and the founder of Myanmar’s nationalist “969” movement, Ashin Wirathu. He is our entry point in to this twisted journey, one presented in as conventionally documentarian a manner as possible; the talking head we spend most of the runtime getting to know as we’re forced to examine our own instincts.

Wirathu comes of as personable. He has the kind of friendly demeanor one wouldn’t normally associate with a religious orator, like the image one might have of the Dalai Lama before ever watching his interviews. Backed by shelves of religious texts and gleefully sharing videos with us on his cell phone, he rides a distinct line between tradition and modernity, and we open the film listening to him speak about African Catfish. All seems in line with what we ought to see as Buddhist normalcy, as a peaceful, head-shaven religious leader draped in maroon and saffron tells a fable about a violent animal. However the conclusion he reaches is not concerned with non-violence. Instead, it immediately brings to mind the most violent ideologies of history, as he compares the violent sea creature from his story to Myanmar’s Muslim population. Wirathu is not your average Buddhist, as the other Buddhist leaders in the film will tell you, but he is your average extremist. Continue reading

Carving the Divine: Buddhist Sculptors of Japan

 

 

 

 

 

Carving the Divine: Buddhist Sculptors of Japan is a documentary by filmmaker Yujiro Seki, about modern day sculptors of Buddhist art. The filmmaker seeks funds to send his film to the Sundance Film Festival.

Link to Indiegogo page, with much more information.

“Living among these Būshi for the years necessary to document them transforming blocks of wood into incredible sculptures, I was not only able to gain access into the secretive world of some of Japan’s foremost masters. Nor was I simply able to capture a world of Buddhist rituals normally off-limits to all but monks and priests. My proudest achievement in Carving the Divine is that I believe the finished film does a good job of showing how these two traditions – Mahayana Buddhism and the art of the Būshi – both sculpt and are sculpted by Japan itself, and how the struggles of today’s Būshi reflect the historical struggles of the Japanese People – to “persevere,” as we Japanese so often say.”

When India Made Its First Major Animation Movie With a Little Help From a Disney Expert

from The Better India, Sohini Dey April 18, 2017

Cartoons may have been traditionally meant for children, but the global success of animated movies show that their audience is diverse and not limited only to children. Today, Indian animators are highly prized in the global film industry, lending their expertise to movies like How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek and even live-action movies like Life of Pi and Maleficent. But not many know that the country’s first tryst with animated movies goes back to the early decades of the 20th century.

India witnessed the release of its first animated movie in colour titled The Banyan Deer in the year 1957.

Though the movie is often hailed as the country’s very first animated movie, it’s only partly true. Hand-drawn, black and white movies had been made using elementary animation techniques in the earlier decades, such as The Pea Brothers by Gunamoy Banerjee and Jambu Kaka by Raghunath K Kelkar both released in 1934, Superman’s Myth (1939) by renowned animator and filmmaker GK Gokhale and Jumbo the Fox (1951) by Ranjit Movietone.

The Banyan Deer was the first major initiative undertaken by the Films Division of India to produce a full-fledged animated movie in colour format. FDI was established in 1948 to capture the stories of India on celluloid; less than a decade later, it began setting up its Cartoon Film Unit. Animation was considered a great medium to instruct children, and according to Year of Freedom: Vol 11, the unit was “set up to produce short films for children, instructional and educational films and films involving animation sequences.”

In setting up a quality cartoon unit, the Films Division hoped to present animated movies that would match up to international standards. The organisation sought the help of Clair Weeks, a Disney animator with deep ties to India. Clair was born in India in a missionary priest’s family, and went on to work for close to two decades on iconic Disney movies like Bambi and Peter Pan.

Clair arrived in Bombay, as Mumbai was then known, in 1956 on invitation from FDI to train those employed in the cartoon unit. He stayed on for close to 18 months, training the team that worked together to produce what is today acknowledged as India’s first serious foray in world-class, colour animation.

Produced in Eastman Color, The Banyan Deer was based on a popular tale from the Buddhist Jatakas.


The Jatakas are ancient tales, narrated to present the teachings of Gautam Buddha in a simplified manner. It is believed that the Buddha himself narrated these teachings to his disciples who, in turn, narrated them to the common people they encountered on their travels.

In this particular story, the banyan deer is a golden deer and the leader of his herd who steps into the execution altar to save a mother deer from being sacrificed for a human king who loves to hunt. His compassion pleases the king, who not only lets the banyan deer go, but also spares the lives of all the deer.

The FDI chose this particular story of the movie, perhaps in keeping with the moral values inherent in the story. Besides, Buddhism was after all rooted in India and the country boasted a long-standing legacy of exquisite art and heritage, which offered a wealth of inspiration for the team. Continue reading

This Korean documentary on Gandhara civilisation will show the ‘tolerant face’ of Pakistan

Dawn, AMJAD IQBAL

A Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) team has filmed Buddhist sites in Taxila, Lahore, Peshawar, Swat, Swabi and Gilgit

A two-member Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) team filmed various Buddhist sites of Gandhara civilization, which they will air on South Korean official television .

Lee Heon and Miss Hong, Eun Hee, producers of the KBS, are visiting the ancient sites on the invitation of Dr Esther Park, General Secretary, Gandhara Art and Culture Association (GACA).

Before coming to Taxila the KBS team also visited Lahore, Peshawar, Swabi, Swat and Gilgit and filmed various Buddhist sites.

“I have visited Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Armenia to record various cultural sites but the potential and cultural diversity Pakistan harbours is unique and significant,” said Miss Hong while talking to Dawn.

“What has really captured me about Pakistan is the kindness of the people here; really they are generous and hospitable,” she added.

Replying to a query, she said it was her first visit to Pakistan and like other foreign media persons she had some misconception about Pakistan but after visiting various cities, she found it an enlightened and diverse country. “Through her documentary she will now show peaceful, tolerant and hospitable face of Pakistan to the world especially to Buddhists across the globe,” she added.

Monk Maranantha, credited for spreading Buddhist teachings across the Korean peninsula in the late 4th century AD, was originally from Chota Lahore in district Swabi, therefore Buddhist followers of Korea have deep-rooted spiritual and religious attachment with Pakistan and this documentary would further strengthen relations between the two countries. Continue reading

Buddhist leader’s ‘message of hope’ premiered at Scots monastery

The Scotsman, Thursday 16 March 2017

A film charting the life and times of the co-founder of Europe’s first Buddhist monastery yesterday received its world premiere.

The feature-length documentary about Akong Tulku Rinpoche was screened at Kagyu Samye Ling, the Tibetan centre in south-west Scotland he helped established some 60 years ago.

The film, ‘Akong – A Remarkable Life’ charts the former Buddhist leader’s early years in Tibet through to his murder in China in 2013.

Described by its makers as a “message of hope,” the documentary was authorised by Akong Rinpoche before he was stabbed to death. Akong, who was born in 1939, was identified as the reincarnation of Dolma Lhakang, at a monastery in eastern Tibet. He was just four when he was enthroned in the monastery and began his spiritual education.

After the Tibetan uprising against occupying Chinese forces in 1959, the then 19-year-old joined a freedom walk over the Himalayas to India. The gruelling trek saw the party run out of food, with many forced to boil leather shoes and bags to make soup. Out of about 200 people who took part in the walk, Akong was among just 15 survivors.

He eventually made his way to Scotland, where along with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, he founded Samye Ling in Langholm, 30 miles east of Dumfries. Students at the monastery, constructed around a former hunting lodge, have included the late musicians David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.

Vin Harris, executive producer of the film, which features contributions from the likes of Lord Steele, said: “We feel that the film is more a message of hope, a celebration of his life.

“It kind of focuses on the fact that putting compassion into action, rather than being a kind of luxury, is so effective.

“We look at what, as a refugee, he achieved – setting up centres all over the world and helping thousands and thousands of people without compromising that value of compassion.” Last year, two men were sentenced to death in China for the murder of Akong as well as his nephew and driver. A third man was sentenced to three years in jail.

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