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Recommended Films

A few of the many films available on Tibetan Buddhist themes are listed here.

Destroyer of Illusion (Sky Walker Films, directed by Richard Kohn, 1985, 142 mins) is an extended documentary centring around a major Sherpa ritual, Mani Rimdu. Kohn’s book Lord of the Dance: The Mani Rimdu Festival in Tibet and Nepal (State University of New York Press, 2001) gives a detailed description and analysis of the events portrayed in the film. The original version, with narration by Peter Hudson, is much preferable to the later, abridged, version with narration by Richard Gere.

Yogis of Tibet (JEHM films, directed by Phil and Jo Borack, 2002, 77 mins) explores the yogic practices of Tibetan monks. It includes demonstrations of yogic exercises, as well as explanations by a number of distinguished lamas, including H.E. Choje Togden Rinpoche, H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, Ven Drubwang Konchok Norbu Rinpoche, H.E. Chetsang Rinpoche, and H.H. the Dalai Lama.

Heart of Tibet: An Intimate Portrait of the 14th Dalai Lama (Mystic Fire Video, directed by David Cherniack and Martin Wassell, 1992, 60 mins) is one of the best of the (by now) quite numerous films about H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. Kundun (Touchstone Pictures, directed by Martin Scorsese, 1997, 134 mins), while somewhat fictionalized and romanticized, is also worth viewing.

Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy (Thread Cross Films, directed by Graham Coleman, 1979, reissued on DVD 2004, 26 min, 70 min, 38 mins) consists of three short films (The Dalai Lama, The Monasteries and the People; Radiating the Fruit of Truth; The Fields of the Senses), showing a variety of aspects of Tibetan religious culture among the refugee community and in Ladakh.

Brilliant Moon: Glimpses of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (Axiom Films, directed by Neten Chokling, 2011, 56 mins) portrays the life of one of Tibet’s most distinguished 20th-century lamas. It can be viewed alongside his published autobiography, Brilliant Moon: The Autobiography of Dilgo Khyentse (Shambhala, Boston and London, 2009).

Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet (Xenix Filmdistribution, directed by Luc Schaedler, 2005, 97 mins) tells the story of the famous and controversial Gelugpa monk and scholar, Gendun Choephel. Schaedler uses his story to present an unconventional view of Tibetan Buddhism, focusing around Tibet’s encounter with modernity in the early twentieth century.

The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche (White Crane Films, directed by Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin, 1992, 50 mins) is a documentary in which a disciple of the late Khensur Rinpoche searches for the child who is his reincarnation.

Oracles and Demons of Ladakh (Avenue E, directed by Rob McGann, 2003, 71 mins) presents the village shamans and spirit-mediums of Ladakh, showing a side of Tibetan Buddhism that receives little attention in most Western presentations.

The Lost World of Tibet (BBC/British Film Institute, directed by Emma Hindley, 2008, 90 mins) has some rare footage of Tibet in the 1930s and 1940s, including large-scale Lhasa state ritual occasions, with commentary by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama.

The Message of the Tibetans: Buddhismand The Message of the Tibetans: Tantrism are two films directed by Arnaud Desjardins, first released in 1966. They present valuable portrayals of many senior lamas from the generation who left Tibet in and around 1959 (directed by Arnaud Desjardins, 50 mins each).

There are a number of films available on Tibetan medicine; one that can be recommended, made in conjunction with the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute at Dharamsala (Men-Tsee-Khang), is simply called Tibetan Medicine (Men-Tsee-Khang, 1997, 58 mins).

Online video material

H.H. the Dalai Lama’s website includes a large number of videos both of talks and teachings by the Dalai Lama himself and other events in which he is involved at http://dalailama.com/webcasts

A wide range of short videos on Tibetan subjects can be found on the internet on YouTube, Vimeo and other internet hosting sites. While the quality of these videos is variable, many of them give a good sense of aspects of Tibetan Buddhist life today. Some examples are listed below.

Samye and the Tsangchu (Brahmaputra River) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuaTg6HZCWE

Jokhang Temple, Lhasa http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jr35ACTpLkA has some good views of Central Lhasa and the area around the Jokhang
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_HEQR_yDpA&feature=related shows scenes inside the temple

Pelkor Chode Monastery and the old town of Gyantse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gBihn67FCk&feature=related

Bodhnath Stupa. The great Tibetan stupa and pilgrimage centre near Kathmandu http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgfektDlhps&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXCLgpN3638

Life in a Tibetan Monastery – Ringham Gompa, Sikkim (several parts; first at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0C8rJewTzuM)

Lhagang Nunnery in Eastern Kham can be seen at http://vimeo.com/18183130

A visit to the Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan monastery in Scotland http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0d_Gng4QEE

Buddhist Temple at McLeodganj (Dharamsala) with some nice scenes of debating near the end  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1YF8a2Me5c&feature=related

Monks debating at the Tibetan temple, McLeodganj, Dharamsala http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKFYUe8V_II&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL33635F3A200BC30C

H.H. 16th Karmapa can be seen performing the Black Hat or Vajra Crown Ceremony on a visit to the USA in 1980 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GsnGI-iT4AI&feature=related

The construction of a Kalacakra sand mandala by Losang Samten can be seen at http://vimeo.com/9160254 and another of the Five Dhyani Buddhas at http://vimeo.com/8903678
Losang Samten talks about the meaning of Kalachakra at http://vimeo.com/16290409 while a 3D exploration of the mandala can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exZiswZt7NE&feature=related

Vajra Kilaya Drubchen at Taktse Nyingma Institute, Sikkim is a sequence of five videos  which gives a good idea of a large-scale Tibetan ritual. It can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kd_ySeJg2CM

There are many examples of Tibetan Ritual Dance (Cham) on the internet. Two sequences from Hemis Gompa, Ladakh can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzwqjHNVsWc (Black Hat dancers) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfTsrA5XOA4&feature=related (Dakini dancers). Excerpts from several Bhutanese Cham performances recorded by Core of Culture can be seen at http://vimeo.com/31846218 and H.H. Karmapa can be seen performing an extended solo Black Hat dance at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61rLEm6-HGM

Tibetan pilgrims prostrating their way along the road from Rebkong to the great Gelugpa monastic centre at Labrang can be seen at http://vimeo.com/18182836
A short video sequence filmed by Werner Herzog, showing the pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziHQbTLUQ50

The Nechung oracle (the main state oracle of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile) can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9fI7nEFWIY