Johnny Depp and Ewan McGregor films to be shown at Buddhist festival

by Mark Brown, The Guardian, 9 April 2009

London, UK -- They might have been mildly surprised to be invited along, but a Ewan McGregor psychological thriller, a Johnny Depp psychedelic western, and one of the more cultish of recent cult movies, Donnie Darko, are all to be part of the UK's first Buddhist film festival.

The six-year-old International Buddhist Film Festival arrives in London for the first time next month after appearances at cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Singapore and Mexico City. For 10 days, the Barbican will play host to more than 40 films, from the clearly Buddhist to some without such an obvious connection.

The festival's executive director, Gaetano Kazuo Maida, admitted some of the Buddhist references might be oblique, not least Donnie Darko, the Jim Jarmusch-directed Dead Man (with Depp) and Stay, starring McGregor and directed by Quantum of Solace director Marc Forster. All three will be part of a Mind the Gap strand, focusing on the Buddhist concept of bardo, the state between one life and the next.

There will be more directly Buddhist films such as Milarepa by Neten Chokling Rinpoche, a film director who is also a lama. There will also be profiles of the singer Leonard Cohen, who was a zen monk for a decade, and the Buddhist-influenced composer Philip Glass, who once described himself as a "Jewish-Taoist-Hindu-Toltec-Buddhist".

Maida said the festival organisers had scoured the world for films and this year 18 countries will be represented, including Argentina, Hungary, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. The opening film has been squirrelled out of the BFI archive - a 1925 German-Indian silent called Prem Sanyas, or The Light of Asia, which tells the story of Prince Siddhartha Gautama and his journey to becoming Buddha. It will be accompanied by live music on the sitar, tabla, flute and violin.

Maida said he was not expecting a mass conversion of London audiences. "Our hope is that these films offer folks an opportunity to see things just a little differently."

The London visit has come about through the Robert HN Ho Foundation, which sent two representatives to Mexico with a view to bringing this year's festival to London. It is part of a series of events to coincide with the opening of a permanent Buddhist gallery at the V&A museum in London, funded by the foundation. There will also be a day of rare Buddhist dances at the V&A on 1 May.

The International Buddhist Film Festival takes place at the Barbican from 7-17 May.