Doc about a millennial conference in Tibet feels like a home movie

Dalai Lama Renaissance

on May 22, 2008 by Sara Schieron
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Doc is something of a travelogue about a millennial conference held in Tibet, which rallied innovative thinkers and the Dalai Lama for the purposes of finding an answer to the world’s problems. Such a vague task results in only one conclusion, and that conclusion might not lead to narrative satisfaction, even to those who greatly admire the Dalai Lama. Though produced by a multi-camera crew and made by a producer/director who’s been involved in multiple TV doc projects, the film often feels like a home movie with the occasional artistic flourish thrown in. Ultimately, this film’s niche is limited, but its demographic is not so terribly small.

The film begins with a herd of people from different arenas making their ways to the Dalai Lama’s home in the Himalayas. The excitement these academics and writers feel is demonstrated by their actions: Some chatter with anticipation about meeting His Holiness, others bicker about their qualifications, still others gaze with a bemused appreciation of the scenery. Indeed, the scenery is breathtaking. Fog rolls down rich green hillsides and gets temporarily caught up in the trees before slinking into neighboring valleys. Monks in brightly colored vestments ring bells and pray prostrate in swirling motions that border the grace of dance. And the temples are miraculous!

So into this resonant landscape enter these dowdy and sometimes arrogant Westerners, saddled with the vague task of finding a way to save the (mostly western) world. They hold a loosely organized conference, which many critique ad nauseum (“No, I can organize it better!”) and have a few important meeting with the Dalai Lama for guidance and brainstorming. Some of these thinkers have egos that inspire them to act in manners that range from frustrating to infuriating. If the reverent and respectful Dalai Lama is their example, it’s almost hilarious the way some of these characters keep up their ball hogging.

Ultimately, the task of saving the future, even when tended by the west’s most relevant minds, proves too massive (and frankly too indistinct) to be solved. Is it a matter, perhaps, as formless as the fog? Speaking sometimes like a kindergarten teacher, the Dalai Lama explains to the conference that one must attain inner peace before a broader human peace can even be broached. As the conference infighting comes into perspective, the film’s direction takes a soft but swift veer into the metaphorical. We begin to see dissolves that bridge the fighting conference members and the fighting monks on the temple walkways. While those monks argue about the nature of God, conference attendees bicker about the right way to organize the conference. Good intention always seems to be present, but isn’t usually a saving grace.

The quiet and resonant closing note of the film revolves around inner workings: Finding personal peace amidst the frenzy of others. The anxiety and fervor of the conference juxtaposes nicely against the breathtaking but still backdrop of the temple, and a basic lack of connection shows itself to be at play in these excited guests who clearly want to make a difference, but find their own transformations a sizeable and unexpected boundary in the process.

Aesthetically, Dalai Lama Renaissance is well intended, but—like the conference it depicts—in need of more thorough (self) realization.


Distributor: Fortune Features
Narrator: Harrison Ford
Cast: Fred Allen Wolf, Amit Goswami and the Dalai Lama
Director/Producer: Khashyar Darvich
Genre: Documentary
Running time: 81 min.
Release date: May 23 ltd.

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