2007 Tibetan Film Festival: Buddhist delight

Film by JENNIFER NEMO, Pulse of the Twin Cities, May 9, 2007

Madison, Wis. (USA) -- With the Dalai Lama's visit to the University of Madison, Wis., on May 4 this year and the Gyuto Tibetan Tantric monk choir performing at St. Catherine's College in June, the timing of the 2007 Tibetan Film Festival, which screens this year at the Minneapolis Riverview Theater, couldn't be better.

The seed for the festival was planted last winter, when a synchronous meeting took place at the Minneapolis Sakya Center for Buddhist Mediation and Studies between two active Buddhist-practitioners who shared a Buddhism class together: Cortland Dahl, the director of the Rimé Foundation, and Rob Quast, a local literary agent and freelance film programmer.

After several conversations between them, it became clear that both shared the same intention: to build awareness about Tibetan culture through the lens of a Tibetan-themed film festival.

Dahl began studying the Tibetan language at Naropa University, where he earned a Masters degree in Buddhist Studies in 2000. Since then, he has worked as an instructor at the Rangjung Yeshe Institute in Kathmandu, an interpreter at the Nitartha Institute for Buddhist Studies and a translator for his foundation. He divides the rest of his time between Nepal, India, and the Twin Cities, where he has lived since 2001.

Jennifer Nemo: How did you choose the ten films to make a cohesive theme?

Cortland Dahl: What unites them is they each highlight some aspect of Tibetan culture or history. We wanted to have a diverse group of films that didn't just focus on the post-1959 aftermath of the Chinese invasion. We also wanted to show the audience how rich and important the Tibetan tradition is.

There is also an abundance of research being done on advanced meditation practitioners by many physicists and neuroscientists that take meditation seriously in the medical world, verifying some of the claims made about the physiological and mental health benefits of meditation. It's a really fertile exchange between science and the Tibetan tradition, so we wanted to help create awareness and interest in Tibet.

Rob Quast: Interestingly enough, with a lot of Buddhist viewpoints, in a simple way you dedicate your life and your service to benefit all sentient beings, which means that you want to create effort and action with your life as a tool to help other people, so that they can move towards greater awareness.

While it's an altruistic viewpoint, it is very antithetical to the West, [despite the fact that] we are extraordinarily interdependent. Some of the Festival's films' messages relate to greater kindness, and speak to creating actions that help other people, in that the more you give of yourself to others, you reap more in return if you live your life in kindness and respect towards others.

JN: Talk about the Tibetan population in Minnesota. It's the second largest population in the U.S., after New York.

Dahl: It was a government program in 2001 that provided visas to the refugee Tibetan population in India who are not allowed back in Nepal. At least 1,000 Tibetans reside in Minnesota now. The entire Tibetan world is centered on its spiritual traditions and you have these populations that left to escape religious persecution, so that's why the U.S. government helps to relocate the Tibetan population to various states in the U.S. and throughout Europe.

JN: Was it easy to get access to the films you and Rob chose for the Tibetan Film Festival? I understand that some of the films have never screened anywhere in the U.S. before.

Dahl: We've been lucky in that we've dealt with the actual filmmakers themselves in getting access to screeners for the festival. We presented what we were doing to the filmmakers and distributors--that this was to benefit local Tibetan-related organizations--and that prompted most of the filmmakers to give us the films for free or a discounted rate. We have had a very positive response from the filmmakers.

Quast: I have prior experience with three Tibetan film festivals. And this was relatively easy because it's a nonprofit film festival. The international Buddhist Film Festival in San Francisco gave us some suggestions for certain titles, but we also searched far and wide for films that we felt really embodied the Tibetan tradition.

JN: What are your hopes for the outcome of this festival? What would you like people to take away from it?

Dahl: What I personally would like people to take away from seeing these films, is to present the ideas behind the traditions of the Dalai Lama of selflessness; the idea being that every individual can help combat the cycle of violence, suffering and misery that we see and experience around the world, through your every day actions, or by showing support for different communities.

I think the Tibetan culture is an incredible resource for the rest of the world. Tibetans are dedicated to understanding the human mind and, in particular, what causes this impulse to violence and destruction and how you can transform the mind, to make individuals, communities and societies more loving and compassionate towards each other and towards the environment. Here is a tradition that has been producing enlightened individuals for thousands of years, who are completely dedicated to the welfare of others because of their insight, understanding and wisdom to really do so in a skillful way.

Information about the Tibetan Film Festival: This year's event will screen first-run feature films and documentaries about Tibet and is hosted by the Rimé Foundation. The festival will premier recent releases such as "10 Questions for the Dalai Lama," "Vajra Sky over Tibet" and "Milarepa." There will also be re-screenings of classics like "The Message of the Tibetans and Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy."

All proceeds from the film festival and ongoing silent auction will benefit the Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, The Society for Gyuto Sacred Arts and the Rimé Foundation. The three nonprofit beneficiaries are committed to preserving Tibet's rich heritage and providing access to its spiritual and cultural resources.

In addition, special guest U.S. explorer Ann Bancroft will be present opening night to introduce the film "Daughters of Everest" and talk about her personal experience with Buddhism and Tibetan culture.

With growing international respect for the Dalai Lama, millions of people are turning to the wisdom of Tibet, with its enduring messages of compassion, mindfulness and interconnectedness. Its time-honored traditions offer healing to a world rocked by stress, anger and violence. The Twin Cities are home to one of the largest Tibetan populations outside of Tibet, and the Dalai Lama will be visiting our region the week before the festival. ||

The 2007 Twin Cities Tibetan Film Festival will be held from Thu., May 10 through Sun., May 13 at the Riverview Theater. 3800 42nd Ave. S., Mpls. The festival will showcase some of the most acclaimed movies regarding Tibet's rich spiritual and cultural heritage, as well as its troubled political history. For ticket and film information, visit rimefoundation.org/filmfest.htm.