Last Thursday I had the opportunity to attend the Opening Night Gala of the International Buddhist Film Festival at the Barbican Centre here in London. Now, I like Buddhism. I’m pretty sure in a past like I was a fairly devout Buddhist in fact. I’ve come to this conclusion for a number of reasons. Primarily my life at the moment is so awesome that I probably did pretty well karma-wise in a past life but also because Buddhism has always held a fascination for me, ever since my 10th grade religion project in which I annoyingly got stuck with Hinduism when I made it very clear I wanted to be in the Buddhist group (although admittedly Hinduism was quite interesting as well). In both my Japanese and East Asian art history classes, Budhhism formed a fairly central pillar for the art and culture we studied. In short, Buddhism is pretty darn awesome. Besides, who can argue with a belief system that basically says “be nice to people, not because something awful will happen if you don’t but because better things will happen if you do.”
In any case, the International Buddhism Film Festival selects a series of films with various levels of direct Buddhist influence from documentaries of the sky burials of Tibetan monks and dramatisations of the life of Siddartha to modern film like Donnie Darko and Stay which have underlying themes in tune with Buddhist believes.
On the opening night, I had a chance to see a 1925 silent film Prem Sanyas (The Light of Asia) and you can read my full review on Spoonfed – here is an excerpt:
There is no denying the stunning beauty, scope and power of the film, however, and I am lured into an almost meditative state by the sepia images, ornate sets and costumes and classic story of Siddhartha who became the Buddha. I am surprised when the end credits appear, having been drawn entirely into this masterpiece of classic silent film.
For me, the one element I think is missing from this festival is a series of optional post-film discussions with someone who can describe and lead a debate on the Buddhist films in the series. I’ll accept that Donnie Darko include Buddhist themes but I’d much rather be able to discuss that after seeing the film with others knowledgeable on the subject.
But perhaps that would be a little more academic than most involved in the festival mean to make it. At the end of the day, some private meditation on Buddhist themes and their place in films – modern or classic – is probably exactly what they meant to create anyway.
The International Buddhist Film Festival is at The Barbican from 7th-17th May, 2009