Fearless Mountain' documentary explores monks' life

By QUINCY CROMER, The Ukiah Daily Journal, Aug 7, 2005

Ukiah, CA (USA) -- The scene opens at sunrise with sounds of nature captured on camera as an ancient gong reverberates on Fearless Mountain in Redwood Valley.

Tony and Andrew Anthony have spent the last seven months filming "Fearless Mountain" and will submit their in-depth documentary about the lives of Buddhist monks to the Sundance Film Festival.

The father-and-son filmmaking duo from Ukiah are in the final editing stages and on schedule to complete their first feature-length documentary in the next two weeks.

Filmed at the Abhayagiri Monastery in the forests of Fearless Mountain, the documentary explores the Buddhists' path to enlightenment, their relationship with the community and reasons that some of the monks turned to Buddhism.

"I had 24 questions when I started this movie that I wanted answered: the big questions to life like why we are here and what we are supposed to be doing," Tony said.

"Fearless Mountain" features the forest-dwelling Teravada Buddhist monks, who live the life of alms mendicants -- living only on donations from the community, Tony said.

"I just decided to make a movie and take a month, which turned into six months. We had already filmed for two or three months and it was just getting good," Tony said. "We started filming in January and we finished filming two weeks ago when we did the final interview with the co-abbots."

Andrew, who graduated from Ukiah High School in 2004 and is entering his sophomore year at Grossmont College in San Diego, started making films when he was 12 years old and is considering attending Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara.

"What I like to see is the finished product. I like the whole process of filmmaking, especially the editing," Andrew said.

"Making Fearless Mountain' has been my most challenging project by far. It has been difficult because I came late to the project and have been mostly involved in the post-production."

As Tony sat with his son Andrew, they spoke about the layout of the film and referred to their storyboard to discuss the direction of the documentary. Some 40 digital tapes sat on a coffee table in their home that has turned into an editing studio for the film.

Tony said his main duty was filming and directing, and he leaves all of the editing to Andrew, who has the task of putting months of film and interviews into a 90-minute feature.

After completing the filming process, Andrew processed some 1,920 minutes of raw tape to make the documentary, which he said has been challenging because it is not in a linear format.

"The film is coming together much better than I thought it would in the beginning. I didn't really have a grasp of how the film would come together, because 90 percent of the filming was done without my involvement," Andrew added. "Now that I've been editing for a month, I've grasped the point of view of the film."

The deadline for early submissions to the Sundance Film Festival is Aug. 19 and all features are due by Sept. 16. Tony said they will submit the film early and will hope to hear by December if "Fearless Mountain" will be in the festival.

Experiencing the serenity of the monastery in the forest, Tony said they started to become a part of the simple routine of eating, sewing robes, repairing fences, sweeping paths and chopping wood.

"Seeing the peace on the faces of the monks, their easy good humor and welcoming nature, makes us want to know them more." Tony said. "They just started opening up, and I was interested in getting to know them."

According to Andrew, the documentary is not solely about Buddhism, but the people who have turned to the faith seeking enlightenment.

"The movie has aspects of Buddhism, but it's more about the people and how Westerners have been attracted by the Buddhist lifestyle and live it in today's world," Andrew said.

"I think people will like Fearless Mountain' because it will bring Americans much more into touch with Buddhism. Our movie shows the monks as real people who have a spiritual yearning, whereas most people think of monks as detached ascetics."

"Fearless Mountain" includes interviews with seven monks, several lay practitioners (citizen monk laborers), and a rare trip to the Museum of Asian Art in San Francisco.

The film includes the ordination of 9-year-old Buddhist Todd Tansuhaj with interviews that reveal the journey of people from Canada, Thailand and from all over the United States to the Buddhist monastery.

Co-abbots Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro speak candidly about the path to enlightenment and address the reality of being a Buddhist monk.

Tony, whose film career as a young trainee at Warner Brothers was sidetracked after being drafted into the Army during Vietnam, is an author of two books that focus on recovery from post-traumatic stress and his experiences during times of war.

After being exposed to the Buddhist way of life and speaking with monks at the Abhayagiri Monastery, Tony was inspired to explain the reason these Buddhists decided to become monks.

"To end the movie we are trying to build to the real reason that someone would want to be a monk: to simplify their lives," Tony said.

Celebrating Buddha's birth 2,547 years ago, the documentary captures a ceremony at the top of Fearless Mountain, and the spiritual exploration concludes as monks chant beneath a bronze statue of Buddha.

Reflecting on the original 24 questions, Tony said he found his answers "and then some."