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Exploring Consciousness Films is presenting its first International Buddhist Film Festival in Africa at the Labia.
The festival started yesterday with a presentation of Victress Hitchcock’s Blessings: The Tsoknyi Nangchen Nuns of Tibet and When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West.
Narrated by Richard Gere, the first film explores the Tibetan Buddhist monastic system, specifically exploring the changing role of Tibetan nuns, and the second explores the complicated interaction between Tibetan Buddhism and Western culture.
Hitchcock introduced the two films and will be in Cape Town for the rest of the festival, which runs until October 27.
Exploring Consciousness has, since 1996, been screening films in Cape Town which feature humanity’s spiritual search, concentrating on thought-provoking features which document every- thing from ancient wisdom traditions to controversial interfaith scientific investigations.
Exploring Consciousness director Erika van Greunen said they had focused on several themes over the years, and Buddhism seemed like a logical choice since Hitchcock was available to present her work at the Labia.
“Buddhism has become very popular in the West, so there were lots of American films to choose from, some from Europe, Japan and China, too.
“I am always on the lookout for new, thought-provoking and inspiring films and I could easily have doubled the number of films, but I preferred to make a shorter list and only choose the better ones,” said Van Greunen.
She explained that local Buddhist centres (or dharma groups) would introduce specific films and host question and answer sessions after the screenings:
• An Uncommon King: hosted by Shambhala South Africa, it portrays the life of a contemporary Tibetan king: Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, the son and heir of the unconven- tional Chögyam Trungpa;
• Zen: hosted by The Dharma Centre Home of Contemporary Zen, it is a Japanese art film depicting the life of Dogen, the 13th-century Japanese Buddhist master.
• The Only Son: hosted by Rokpa Charity, is a modern parable of the dilemma of a boy educated in Rokpa Home Katmandu: whether to return to his home in Nepal or study abroad.
Other films which form part of the festival include:
• Yangsi: the story of the reincarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Yangsi is now 20 years old). This film is by Mark Elliott, who was there at every main event in the life of Yangsi.
• The Devotion of Matthieu Ricard: a documentary about “The happiest man alive” – a close student of Dilgo Khyentse.
• Karmapa – the Lineage of the Awakened: an insightful documentary on the 17th Karmapa, the lineage of the great wisdom teachers and magicians of Tibet.
• Our Life is Like Our Breath: the Theravada forest monk tradition featuring the Wat Pah Nanachat Monastery in Thailand, founded by Ajahn Chah.
• Dharma River: A visual experience of lost civilisations, sacred space and ancient wisdom traditions, including The Royal Temple, The Emerald Buddha, Chaing Mai, Mekong River, Buddha caves, Shangri-la of Luang Prabang, Swedagon Pagoda, Pagan.
• Shugendo Now: documentary about a unique school of Japanese asceticism.
• Check www.exploring consciousness.org.za for the exact schedule. Tickets are R60 for evening shows and R40 during the day.