First IBFF Opens in Los Angeles November 20, 2003

The first International Buddhist Film Festival unfolds at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) November 20–23, 2003. Tickets are now on sale (for ticket information, call 323.857.6288; to charge tickets via Ticketmaster, call 1.877.522.6225). Ask for special Festival Pass and Day Pass discounts.

Eight premieres will be screened as part of a wide variety of features, documentaries, shorts and animation. The non-competitive programming is a combination of invitational and juried selections. Filmmakers will be in attendance.

Key works include the US premiere of Travellers & Magicians (Bhutan), by Khyentse Norbu (The Cup), the LA premiere of Wheel of Time (Germany) by Werner Herzog, the US premiere of Home Street Home (The Netherlands) by George Schouten, and the US premiere of Words of My Perfect Teacher (Canada) by Lesley Ann Patten.


Program One: Thursday November 20, 7:30 pm

Travellers & Magicians
Bhutan / 2003 / 35mm / 108 min
Director Khyentse Norbu in person

Few have heard of Bhutan and even fewer have passed its remote Himalayan borders. This pristine Buddhist kingdom (some say the last Shangri-La) has quietly avoided the strife of its northern neighbor Tibet and only recently opened its doors to the West. In the absence of television and western influences, a unique, precious culture has matured. One of Bhutan’s most revered lamas, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (Khyentse Norbu, director of The Cup, and actor/advisor in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha ) joins us in LA to present his second film, the country’s first full-length feature in Dzongkha, the official language. Part road movie, part Bhutanese fable, the story of two frustrated dreamers plays out against a backdrop of the Himalayas. Starring Tshewang Dendup, Sonam Kinga, Deki Yangzom, Sonam Lhamo and Lhakpa Dorji.


Program Eleven: Sunday November 23, 8:00 pm

Wheel of Time
Germany / 2003 / 35mm / 80 min
Director Werner Herzog in person

Renown filmmaker Werner Herzog (Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo) applies his eccentric passion and vast cinematic skill to a discovery of Tibetan Buddhism. With Germanic precision and an initiate’s delight, Herzog features His Holiness the Dalai Lama performing the special Kalachakra initiation ceremony in Bodhgaya, India, the place of Buddha’s enlightenment, and then goes on pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash.


Program Six: Friday November 21, 9:45 pm

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
USA / 1999 / 35mm / 116 min
Director Jim Jarmusch

This underworld homage to the samurai tradition features a striking soundtrack by RZA of the Wutang Clan. Lush, brooding hip-hop guides the brutal grace of a hit man and his dangerous dealings, all guided by the 18th century Japanese text, the Hagakure. Starring Forest Whitaker.

Program Eight: Saturday November 22, 6:00 pm

Jacob’s Ladder
USA / 1990 / 35mm / 113 min
Director Adrian Lyne
Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin in person

Long after this film was released as a horror/thriller, screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost) revealed that his screenplay for Jacob’s Ladder was adapted from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He says the film “kind of bypasses the neural circuitry of the brain and goes somewhere other. You feel it rather than understand it.” Starring Tim Robbins, with Danny Aiello, Matt Craven and Elizabeth Pena.


Program Seven: Saturday November 22, 1:00 pm

King of the Hill: Won’t You Pimai Neighbor episode
USA / 2000 / BetaSP / 20 min
Creator Mike Judge (invited) and Executive Producers/writers John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky in person

The nickname for this episode of King of the Hill, a long running animation success on FOX television, is “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Buddha.” We learn more about Buddhism in its twenty minute running time than we do in many a full length feature work. A skillful send-up of the Kundun story of the identification of the young Dalai Lama, this surprising episode in particular demonstrates the power of good writing and fearless satire. It’s all about love…

with Life of the Buddha animation
Three episodes of a rare twelve part series produced in Japan over a decade ago.


Program Two: Friday November 21, 1:00 pm

The Anniversary
USA / 2003 / 35mm / 28 min
Director Ham Tran in person

A short dramatic work from talented new Vietnamese American director Ham Tran beautifully filmed by Before Night Falls cinematographer Guillermo Rosas. Skillfully cutting between cruel child’s play and the brutality of real warfare, the film offers an undiluted glimpse of human suffering. Buddhism is presented not as an escape to Nirvana but as mindful reflection on this suffering. One doesn’t have to reach far to draw parallels between the violent situations here and the current state of global affairs.

Chasing Buddha
Australia / 1999 / BetaSP / 51 min
Director Amiel Courtin-Wilson

When a sharp-tongued, feminist street drifter from Australia finds Buddhism, she takes vows and dons robes but discards the stereotypical demure characteristics of a nun. Hard-edged but kindhearted, Robina Courtin returns to her old stomping ground, working with addicts, miscreants and prisoners. A ballsy and surprising film shot by then teenage Amiel Courtin-Wilson.

Program Three: Friday November 21, 3:00 pm

USA / 1997 / 16mm (BetaSP) / 28 min
Director Frazer Bradshaw in person

Twenty-eight minutes of details that we often overlook in a high-speed world. Feature cinematographer Frazer Bradshaw delivers a wordless, visual poem that forces us to slow down and experience the pace of the oldest American Zen monastery.

Peace Is Every Step—Meditation In Action
USA / 1998 / BetaSP / 52 min
Director Gaetano Kazuo Maida in person

The opening sequence of this remarkable documentary shows Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn visiting the Vietnam War memorial and pleading with the U.S. government not to go to war in the Persian Gulf. Nhat Hanh was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize by Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr.; this profile is narrated by Ben Kingsley and includes rare footage from Vietnam.

Program Four: Friday November 21, 5:30 pm

Hi! Dharma
Korea / 2001 / 35mm / 95 min
Director Kwan Park

Gangsters go into hiding in a Korean monastery. Perhaps a contrivance, but this comedy goes far deeper than its farcical premise. A sincere and substantive exploration of two worlds colliding. Starring Shin-yang Park, with Jin-yeong Jeong, Sang-Myeon Park, Seong-jin Kang, Su-ro Kim and Kyoung-In Hong.

Program Five: Friday November 21, 7:30 pm

Words of My Perfect Teacher
Canada / 2003 / 35mm / 101 min
Director Lesley Ann Patton in person
Principal subject Khyentse Norbu in person

A personal and revealing documentary about Bhutanese lama Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche (director of Travellers & Magicians ) from the perspective of three students sheds an often comedic light on the student/guru relationship.

Program Nine: Saturday November 22, 8:00 pm

Home Street Home
The Netherlands / 2003 / 35mm / 80 min
Director George Schouten in person
Principal subject Bernie Glassman in person

Brooklyn native, LA-trained Zen teacher Bernie Glassman is also an aeronautical engineer, political activist, baker, and clown who provokes some and helps many through his organized and inspired compassion in action. This profile of him and his work was produced for Holland’s remarkable state funded Buddhist television network, BOS.

Program Ten: Sunday November 23, 6:00 pm

China / 1999 / 35mm / 94 min
Director Yang Zhang

It would be easy to try to sell this film as a comedy about a family-run bath house but it’s much more than that. A rare look at how a Vajrayana Buddhist spirit survived China’s cultural revolution in the hearts of the stubborn and compassionate. Specific and tender. Starring Wu Jiang, with Quanxin Pu, He Zeng, He Bing and Xu Zhu.