Movie is an ode to Tibetan culture, philosophy

By Dan Hudak, The Sun-Sentinel, August 10 2006

Fort Lauderdale, FL (USA) -- Graham Coleman knew that his trip to India in 1974 would be a life-changing experience. What he didn't know was that the Dalai Lama would inspire him to make a movie about the Buddhist way of life, and that more than 30 years later he'd still be working on it.

That movie, Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy, will be screened today through Tuesday at the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. Guest speakers and discussions will follow most screenings.

The film is about the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader and a head of state, and the rituals and rites of passage that have long been a part of Buddhist tradition.

"The idea was to introduce the social elements of Tibetan culture," Coleman said via telephone from India, where he continues to work and study. "I tried to make the film a meditative experience that would make the viewer feel as though he or she was right there with these people."

Too bad no one saw the film the way Coleman intended when it was first released in 1979. To his dismay, the three-part structure was fractured when distributors chose to show the two-hour middle section separately from parts one and three. He has since re-edited the film from its original four-hour running time down to a crisp 134 minutes, all the while retaining the integrity of the three-part structure.

"We cut out a lot of the contextual parts of the film, the parts that dealt more with the social structure of India in the '70s," said Coleman, who will not be in South Florida for the screenings. "For example the `Beautiful Ornament' ritual in part two is very repetitious ... we took out the core of the process, and edited the ritual down to its primary elements while retaining its structure."

While the ritual still comprises the bulk of part two and is set in Nepal, part three is set in the mountain landscape of Ladakh and follows monks and farmers throughout a single day, ending with the monastery's ritual response to a death in the community.

"In Tibetan culture, life and death are looked at as two aspects of physical time -- one with a physical body, one without," Coleman said, noting the differences in commonly held beliefs in Western and Eastern cultures.

Part One observes the Dalai Lama in his dual role as head of state and spiritual teacher. It was filmed in the residence of His Holiness in Dharamsala, in the northern India.

And what is the Dalai Lama really like?

"He makes you automatically feel completely comfortable with him, and it's all in a very genuine way," Coleman said of the Dalai Lama, who most recently visited South Florida in September 2004. "He's incredibly relaxed, humble, has a tremendous sense of humor and is very nonjudgmental, and at the same time very erudite and learned."

If You Go

Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy will be shown at the Cinema Paradiso, 503 SE Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale.

Tickets: $8 general admission, $7 seniors/students, $5 FLIFF members, with the exception of the Saturday afternoon matinee, which is $12 general admission, $10 students, seniors and FLIFF members. For information. visit or call 954-525-3456.

Schedule: 9 p.m. today. 11:45 a.m. Saturday, followed by a talk from Geshe Konchog Kyab, a Buddhist monk and resident teacher at the Tubten Kunga Center in Deerfield Beach. 7 p.m. Monday, followed by the award- winning documentary PeaceJam. 7 p.m. Tuesday, followed by discussion with Lama Karma Chotso, resident teacher at Kagyu Shedrup Cholingin Hollywood.