Reviewed by Melora Koepke
Back before the Dalai Lama became linked with all sorts of Hollywood celebrities and Lotusland’s appropriation of Buddhist culture exhausted all but the most intrepid interest in the shining path, Graham Coleman’s 1979 documentary Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy was a first look at the faraway ways of Tibetan monks.
Originally released as a two-part film that ran over four hours, a visit to the theatre must have been an experience almost as exhausting as one’s own meditations towards Nirvana. But the doc’s reincarnation as a digitally restored, two-hour viewing experience makes the undertaking more accessible, if less immersive, than the original project.
Though Tibet was a two-part film, here it’s seen in three consecutive parts. The first profiles the Dalai Lama in his residences at Dharamsala, India, and was made with his collaboration, as well as the participation of several other movers and shakers of the Buddhist community. The second part details the building of a cosmogram, and in the final third we witness a Buddhist funereal ritual. The whole film plays without narration, which is a welcome reprieve from the usual media-whores blathering on about their deep faith and commitment while mispronouncing Buddhist terms and tripping over their ankle bracelets (or sorry, are the ankle bracelets a Kabbalah thing?).
In 2005, the filmmaker was the editor of the only complete translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Penguin, translated by Gyurme Dorje), which makes a nice companion piece to the screening.
Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy
Opens at Cinéma du Parc, June 23