First IBFF in a Buddhist Nation Opens June 7 in Bangkok

The International Buddhist Film Festival continues its tenth anniversary season with the historic first IBFF in a Buddhist country, IBFF 2012 BANGKOK. Buddhadasa Indapanno Archive Foundation (BIA) (website is in Thai) is the sponsor for IBFF 2012 BANGKOK, which is presented as part of Buddhaleela Bangkok Festival celebrating the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha’s awakening. The four day IBFF, June 7–10, 2012, will screen fifteen films from ten countries at the SF Cinema World Cinema in downtown Bangkok.


Directed by Naoki Kato
Japan / 2010 / Japanese with English subtitles / 113 min / Dramatic Feature
Thursday, June 7, 6:50 pm / Saturday, June 9, 2:15 pm

[Japanese monk sings into microphone while playing electric guitar]A punk rock veteran, now a married Buddhist priest, has a crisis of identity. This film touches on karma, self, compassion, community, impermanence, a dog, fathers and sons, relative and absolute, noise and music… and weaves bravely between heartfelt emotion and borderline jaunty farce. A soft spot for thrash punk music (and Leonard Cohen) will add to the pleasure. (Abraxas, according to Carl Jung, was a God higher than the Christian God and the Devil, who combines all opposites into one Being…)

Amongst White Clouds
Directed by Edward A. Burger
China, Canada / 2005 / English and Chinese with English subtitles / 86 min / Documentary
Thursday, June 7, 2:30 pm / Sunday, June 10, 1:40 pm

[old, grey bearded Chinese man speaks and gestures to camera]Amongst White Clouds is an intimate insider’s look at students and masters living in scattered retreats dotting China’s Zhongnan Mountain range. These peaks have reputedly been home to recluses since the time of the Yellow Emperor, some five thousand years ago. It was widely thought that the tradition was all but wiped out, but this film emphatically and beautifully shows us otherwise. Filmed on location in China, the film takes an unforgettable journey into the hidden tradition of China’s Buddhist hermit monks. One of only a few foreigners to have lived and studied with these elusive practitioners, director Burger is able, with humor and compassion, to present their tradition, their wisdom, and the hardship and joy of their everyday lives among the clouds.

The Book of the Dead
Directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto
Japan /2005 / Japanese with English subtitles / 70 min / Animation
Saturday, June 9, 7:30 pm / Sunday, June 10, 11:50 am

[puppet of Japanese noble woman sewing a white cloth]Japanese animation beyond anime: In The Book of the Dead, Buddhism has recently arrived from China and is all the rage amongst the Japanese nobility. Iratsume, a devoted young noblewoman, attracts the attention of the spirit of the executed Prince Otsu. She begins weaving a giant shroud to relieve his pain. A sumptuous study of obsession and deliverance brought to life through director Kawamoto’s meticulous puppet animation, this is a delicate masterpiece.

Breaking of Branches Is Forbidden
Directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto
Japan / 1968 / Japanese with English subtitles / 14 min / Animation

[colorful Japanese puppets]In this delightful and poetic comedy short, an acolyte is tempted by the enticing fragrances of worldly generosity. Breaking of Branches is Forbidden is a light-hearted contemplation of such universal themes as living a spiritual life amidst the temptations of the sensual world and suffering the consequences of one’s actions. This film features examples of Kawamoto’s experiments in kirigami (cutout animation).

The Buddha
Directed by David Grubin
USA / 2010 / English / 112 min / Documentary
Narrated by Richard Gere
Thursday, June 7, 4:20 pm / Saturday, June 9, 12:40 pm

[stone sculpture of Buddha head in meditation]The story of Buddha, the 6th century BCE prince who became a great spiritual teacher, has been told in many ways. This is an ambitious and imaginative film by veteran documentary director David Grubin, narrated by Richard Gere, that uses animation and contemporary voices including poets Jane Hirshfield and US Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin, and Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman to explore the life and meaning of the man who became “awake” and continues to inspire the diverse Buddhist cultures all over the world. Filmed on location in India, Nepal and the US.

Crazy Wisdom
Directed by Johanna Demetrakas
USA / 2011 / English / 92 min / Documentary
Thursday, June 7, 7:10 pm / Sunday, June 10, 12:00 pm

[bare chested man with cigarette, with blonde woman smiling at his side]This is the long-awaited feature documentary that explores the life, teachings, and “crazy wisdom” of the late Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a pivotal figure in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Raised and trained in the rigorous Tibetan monastic tradition, Trungpa shattered preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave—he openly smoked, drank, and had intimate relations with students—yet his teachings are recognized as authentic, vast, and influential. Trungpa taught Buddhism as though it were a matter of life and death. Allen Ginsberg considered him his guru; Thomas Merton wanted to write a book with him; Joni Mitchell wrote a song about him. Filmed in the UK, Tibet, Canada, and the US, twenty years after Trungpa’s death, with unprecedented access and exclusive archival material.

Enlightenment Guaranteed
Germany / 1999 / German with English subtitles / 109 min / Dramatic Feature (Comedy)
Friday, June 8, 7:30 pm / Sunday, June 10, 10:40 am

[two men in outerware sit on grass in front of cardboard boxes]German director Doris Dörrie’s delightful fish-out-of-water comedy follows two mismatched brothers—one an uptight family man whose wife has just left him, and the other a naïve New Age enthusiast—traveling to Japan for a retreat at a Buddhist monastery. After a hilariously disastrous night in Tokyo leaves them broke, confused, and humiliated, the brothers accidentally find themselves somehow prepared for their immersion in Buddhist practice and new lives. Filmed on location at Sojiji Monastery, Monzen, Japan.

The Great Pilgrim
Directed by Jin Tiemu
China / 2009 / Chinese with English subtitles / 98 min / Documentary
Thursday, June 7, 6:35 pm / Friday, June 8, 4:50 pm

[man walks desert with pack animal as sun blazes from behind]One of the most celebrated journeys in history is that of Tang dynasty Chinese monk Xuanzang who traveled to India and brought back essential Buddhist texts and teachings. A heroic life by any measure, Xuanzang became a monk at age thirteen and was ordained at twenty. His quest to obtain original Buddhist texts from India took him on a nineteen year pilgrimage to India where he studied for several years at the famous Nalanda University. Upon his return to China in 645, bearing many Sanskrit texts, he was sponsored by Emperor Taizang to translate all the texts into Chinese and to record the story of his journey. He founded the Faxiang school of Buddhism and his translation of The Heart Sutra is still in use today. His autobiography, Great Tang Records of the Western Region is considered so accurate in its observations that is still consulted by archeologists and historians. It is also the inspiration for the many popular Journey to the West and Monkey stories in novels, comic books, and animated and live action films and television from several countries in Asia. Reenactments, location filming and animation are compellingly used in The Great Pilgrim to introduce a truly legendary figure.

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Hi Dharma!
Directed by Cheol-kwan Park
Korea / 2001 / Korean with English subtitles / 95 min / Dramatic Feature
Thursday, June 7, 4:50 pm / Friday, June 8, 3:20 pm

Korean monks scrammbling to keep water in a broken urnThis seemingly typical Korean jopok (gangster) genre film offers more than escapist action comedy. In the middle of a turf war, five big city gang brothers seek refuge in a rural Buddhist monastery and the contrasts loom large. The head monk (veteran Korean actor Kim In-moon) bears himself with dignity and reserve as the younger monks display an assortment of reactions to the intrusion and provocations from the outside world. But the gangsters are on unfamiliar ground too, and subtle transformations begin to unfold all around—not always as expected. First-time director Cheol-kwan Park skillfully plays with these conventions while avoiding the predictable.

Directed by Neil Cantwell and Tim Grabham
UK, Japan / 2011 / English subtitles / 86 min / Documentary
Saturday, June 9, 12:10 pm / Sunday, June 10, 1:20 pm

Japanese man vocalizes while holding instrument tied with red cordA mysterious and compelling meditation on sound, song, story, ritual, performance, nature, tradition and Japanese Buddhism… a fearless merging of medieval and modern, beautifully filmed with a variety of cinematic techniques on location in Japan, intimate and deeply seen. Kanzeon, another way of saying Kannon, the embodiment of compassion (in Sanskrit: Avalokiteshvara, in Tibetan: Chenrezi, in Chinese: Kuan Yin), can also be written in Japanese as “to see sounds.”

Directed by Tsering Rhitar Sherpa
Nepal / 2006 / Tibetan with English subtitles / 104 min / Dramatic Feature
Thursday, June 7, 5:10 pm / Friday, June 8, 7:10 pm

[joyful young nun extends arms overhead as wrap blows in the wind]In a nunnery in the high desert mountains, a revered abbess dies, leaving signs that she will be reborn. Prayers and rituals must be performed to help her consciousness into its next rebirth, but the nunnery coffers are empty. The senior nuns decide that the only way is to try and get back money loaned out to a mysterious man. A nun by the name of Karma decides to take the journey to find this man. The film was shot in the remote region of Mustang in the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal and follows Karma to Kathmandu where she discovers that things are not what she thought. “Karma” also means “actions.” A rare and intriguing glimpse into the inner life of Tibetan nuns in a changing world.

Directed by Neten Chokling
India, Bhutan / 2006 / Tibetan with English subtitles / 90 min / Dramatic Feature
Thursday, June 7, 3:00 pm / Sunday, June 10, 3:10 pm

[a man in red robe stands with hands clasped amidst prayer flags]This is the vividly told and captivating story of Milarepa, the man who would become Tibet’s greatest yogi and saint. In the dramatic setting of 11th century Tibet, a young Milarepa falls into a world of betrayal and hardships. The greed of others upturns his privileged life, dropping him into a void of despair, humiliation, pain and anger, and he sets out to exact revenge. Filmed on location near the breathtakingly scenic Indo-Tibetan border.

Shugendo Now
Directed by Jean-Marc Abela and Mark Patrick McGuire
Japan, Canada / 2010 / Japanese with English subtitles / 88 min / Documentary
Friday, June 8, 3:00 pm / Saturday, June 9, 5:10 pm

[man with shaved head suspended out over mountain side]There is a unique school of Japanese asceticism called Shugendo, the Way of Acquiring Power, a blend of Shinto, Daoism and Buddhism. Followers practice arduous rituals in mountain wildernesses and are deeply committed to protecting the natural environment. Shugendo Now is a poetic and intimate journey into a rarely seen world between the developed and the wild, between the present and the infinite. Filmed on location in Japan’s Kumano Mountains, Tokyo and Osaka.

Tokyo Waka
Directed by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson
Japan, USA / 2011 / Japanese with English subtitles / 63 min / Documentary
Friday, June 8, 2:30 pm / Sunday, June 10, 7:00 pm

[a black crow stands amidst headstones in a Tokyo cemetery]The portrait of a great city: ancient, yet constantly remaking itself. A poem in images: stillness, patterns, urban motion. And words: a tofu seller, a homeless woman, a Buddhist priest, contemplating nature, the metabolism of the city, mortality. And 20,000 crows (“waka”), unruly avatars of the natural world, sardonically observe it all…. This film explores the uneasy relationship between the people of Tokyo and its huge population of crows, and touches on nature, art, and culture in the most modern city in the world.

Un Buda
Directed by Diego Rafecas
Argentina / 2005 / Spanish with English subtitles / 115 min / Dramatic Feature
Thursday, June 7, 2:45 pm / Saturday, June 9, 5:00 pm

[view of a man's back as he stares at crashing waves]Un Buda is the brilliant feature film debut of director Diego Rafecas, a Zen student in Argentina. The film follows two brothers orphaned as children when their parents were taken by the military during the “Dirty Wars” of the 1970s in Argentina. Tomas (Agustin Markert) is now a drifting and withdrawn young man who experiments with ascetic practices and has an instinctive compassion for others. His older brother Rafael, played by Rafecas, is a university philosophy professor, detached and alone. Their struggles with each other and the world around them in Buenos Aires take a dramatic turn when they find themselves at a rural Zen center. Un Buda expands our sense of Buddhism in the world today.