'Daughters of Wisdom'

By Maureen M. Hart, Chicago Tribune, Feb 2, 2008

Film on Buddhist nuns in rural Tibet - female empowerment seizes the high ground

Chicago, USA -- Documentary filmmaker Bari Pearlman has taken her cameras to a harshly beautiful corner of rural Tibet, where an unlikely movement toward female empowerment is taking place.

"Daughters of Wisdom" spends its 68 minutes in the company of the nuns of the Kala Rongo Monastery. Though a sheltered religious life might not seem liberating by Western standards, these girls and women were born into a society that considers their gender a matter of bad luck, where childbirth mortality is among the highest in the world and where the normal daily routine is both mind-numbing and back-breaking.

The 300 nuns of Kala Rongo (founded in 1990 after a long period of religious oppression lethally enforced by the Chinese army) are among the first women in their country to immerse themselves in the study and practices of Buddhism, trading days full of herding, weaving and churning for quiet study, religious retreats and leadership opportunities.

Pearlman follows one of the nuns, Tsering Chodron, home to show first-hand the life she has left behind (yak dung collection is but one of the tasks), then back to the monastery to experience the residents' days of ascetism and giggles.

When founder Lama Northa Rinpoche returns and recommends that the women elect eight leaders from among their number to manage the monastery, their lifestyle choice moves beyond "escape from" to "control of" their destinies.

As the camera pans their mountainous setting, it's hard not to recall another nun-centric film, "The Sound of Music"; unlike Maria, though, the nuns of Kala Rongo don't need to leave their mountain to find their life's best path.

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No MPAA rating (appropriate for general audiences).
Opening: Feb. 1 (plays through Feb. 7) at Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton Ave.; 312-281-4114, www.facets.org/cinematheque. Filmmaker Bari Pearlman will be present for Q&A after screenings at 7 and 8:45 p.m. Feb. 1-2 and 3:30 p.m. Feb. 3.
Running time: 1:08.