2017: A Remarkable Year for Buddhist Cinema

This year, the 17th for Buddhist Film Foundation (BFF), saw a number of events in the Buddhist cinema arena that suggest the best is yet to come.

From the sold-out two city International Buddhist Film Festival (IBFF 2017) in June, to the successful theatrical release of two feature documentaries over the summer, and to the new alliance between US distributors Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist, it’s clear that the audience is growing and the new films continue a tradition of sophistication and engagement.

IBFF 2017 LOS ANGELES opened at the Writers Guild Theater in Los Angeles with a tribute to the late Leonard Cohen featuring Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man by Lian Lunson, along with two new short works about Cohen and his Zen teacher Joshu Sasaki Roshi, and closed with the LA premiere of The Last Dalai Lama? by Mickey Lemle. The US premiere of the latest film from Khyentse Norbu (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche), Hema Hema: Sing Me A Song While I Wait, was the third US premiere of his films at IBFF events, joining Travellers & Magicians (2003), and Vara (2013). His first film, The Cup (1999), was distributed on DVD by BFF’s Festival Media. IBFF 2017 LOS ANGELES was co-presented by BuddhaFest LA.

IBFF 2017 BAY AREA was co-presented by California Film Institute at its Smith Rafael Film Center with a similar program, with the addition of the US premiere of a film from Thai director and former monk Boonsong Nakphoo, Wandering, and a program from Myanmar, My Buddha Is Punk, by Andreas Hartmann, with A Thousand Mothers, by Kim Shelton. The full IBFF 2017 schedule of all eleven titles for both festivals is available online.

The summer also saw the unprecedented nearly simultaneous theatrical release of two new feature documentaries, with both theatrical premieres hosted by BFF at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, California. First up was The Last Dalai Lama?, in July, followed by Walk With Me, by Max Pugh and Marc Francis in August. Both are still running in US theaters, at last count having reached over 70 venues in over 50 cities nationwide, together reportedly grossing nearly US$1mm.

Over the years, two key New York based independent film distributors have served Buddhist cinema consistently well: Kino Lorber, and Zeitgeist. This year they formed an alliance, with Zeitgeist moving its theatrical distribution operations into the Kino Lorber offices, and Kino Lorber taking on the Zeitgeist library of home video titles. Notable films now in their combined archive include Himalaya, Travellers & Magicians, Kundun, Crazy Wisdom, When the Iron Bird Flies, Golden Kingdom, My Reincarnation, and others.

On the horizon for 2018 is the imminent launch of the new VOD service from BFF, Buddhist Film Channel, with an opening catalog of over 100 titles drawn from IBFF presentations over the years, and including the best of the Festival Media, Kino Lorber, Zeitgeist, BOS (Holland), and independent libraries from all over the world. Please sign up for Buddhist Film Channel email alerts and updates.