Alive Mind Cinema is proud to partner with Spirituality & Health Magazine to curate our latest online film festival of documentaries. These diverse and intimate portraits showcase what it means to be devoted to your beliefs, spanning the globe in traditions ancient and new.
Meet people who have embraced the fringes of alternative religion in Alex Mar's American Mystic and a young Tibetan boy who is recognized as the reincarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche in the film Yangsi. In Faith Connections, travel to Kumbh Mela, one of the most extraordinary displays of faith on Earth, while filmmaker Tao Ruspoli explores humanity through portraits of diverse masters in Being in the World. Finally, follow the movement and contemporary meaning of Tibetan Buddhism in When the Iron Bird Flies and Crazy Wisdom.
Set against the rich, color-soaked backdrop of America's rural landscapes, Alex Mar's lyrical first work is a bold and artful documentary that braids together the stories of three young Americans who have chosen to sacrifice comforts in order to embrace the fringes of alternative religion. The subjects include Chuck, a Lakota Sioux sundancer in the badlands of South Dakota; Morpheus, a pagan priestess living off the grid in northern California!s old mining country; and Kublai, a Spiritualist medium in the former revivalist district of upstate New York. In the radical, separatist spirit of early America, each has extracted himself from the mainstream in order to live immersed in his faith and seize a different way of life.
Mar takes a personal, visually lush approach, enveloping the viewer in the subjects experience of their controversial faiths through their own words, their rituals, and the sprawling, majestic imagery that makes up each of their worlds.
"Alex Mar's AMERICAN MYSTIC is a poem of a film"
– FILMMAKER MAGAZINE
"Mar's film is lyrical, drenched in a purely American atmosphere of rural and rustic wonders"
"Mar's sensitive approach yields a poetic film about people's struggle to maintain their deeply held beliefs in a world that doesn't share them."
– IFC, THE INDEPENDENT EYE
Ten years after graduating with a degree in philosophy from UC Berkeley, filmmaker Tao Ruspoli returned to visit his one-time professor, world-renowned philosopher Herbert Dreyfus. That visit led to meetings with a whole generation of philosophers whom Dreyfus had taught, which subsequently sparked the inspiration for this film. Being in the World raises the question of whether we have forgotten what it means to be truly human in today's technological age, and proceeds to answer this question by taking a journey around the world to meet a whole host of remarkable individuals, including Manuel Molina, the legendary poet and flamenco master; Leah Chase, affectionately known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine; and Hiroshi Sakaguchi, a master carpenter from Japan. By showing how these modern day masters approach life from within their chosen fields, Ruspoli's film celebrates the ability of human beings to find meaning in the world through the mastery of physical, intellectual, and creative skills.
Crazy Wisdom explores this through the story of Chogyam Trungpa, the brilliant "bad boy of Buddhism," who was pivotal in bringing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Trungpa shattered our preconceived notions about how an enlightened teacher should behave. Born in Tibet, recognized as an exceptional reincarnate lama and trained in the rigorous monastic tradition, Trungpa fled his homeland during the Chinese Communist invasion. In Britain, realizing a cultural gap prevented his students from any deep understanding of Buddhism, he renounced his vows, eloped with a sixteen year-old, and lived as a westerner. In the U.S., he openly drank alcohol and had intimate relations with students. Was this crazy wisdom?
Trungpa landed in the U.S. in 1970 and legend has it that he said to his students: "Take me to your poets." Trungpa became renowned for translating ancient Buddhist concepts into language and ideas that Westerners could understand. Humor was always a part of his teaching - "Enlightenment is better than Disneyland," he quipped, and he warned of the dangers of the "Western spiritual supermarket."
Initially judged harshly by the Tibetan establishment, Trungpa's teachings are now recognized by western philosophers and spiritual leaders, including the Dalai Lama, as authentic and profound. Today, twenty years after his death, Trungpa's name still evokes admiration and outrage. What made him tick, and just what is crazy wisdom anyway? With unprecedented access to Trungpa's inner circle and exclusive never-before-seen archival material, Crazy Wisdom looks at the man and the myths about him, and attempts to set the record straight.
Filmmaker Pan Nalin (Valley of Flowers, Samsara) travels to the Kumbh Mela, the largest religious convergence in the world on the bank of the Ganges. There, he encounters remarkable men of mind and meditation, many contemplating an inextricable dilemma: to embrace the world or to renounce it? Faith Connections brings to life the personal stories behind a scrappy young runaway boy, a mother desperately looking for her stolen son, and a yogi who is raising an abandoned baby, along with a Sadhu and an ascetic who keeps his calm by smoking cannabis. These stories are framed against a background of a million pilgrims and their spectacular display of devotion.
ABOUT KUMBH MELA
Kumbh Mela is one of the most extraordinary displays of faith on Earth: a spectacular journey drawing tens of millions of people, taking place once every twelve years. One such year is 2013.
This Hindu pilgrimage is held for about one and a half months at the Triveni Sangama. In Hindu tradition Triveni Sangama is the “confluence” of three rivers. Sangama is the Sanskrit word for confluence. The point of confluence is a sacred place for Hindus. A bath here is said to wash away all of one’s sins and free one from the cycle of rebirth.
Kumbh means a pitcher and Mela means fair in Hindi. It is also believed in Hindu mythology — drops of nectar fell from the Kumbh carried by gods after the sea was churned. The festival is billed as the “biggest gathering on Earth.” An estimated four to five million pilgrims bathe on the most auspicious day. The total number of pilgrims for the entire duration of the fair is considered to be between 90 to 100 million.
'When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth.' - Guru Padmasambhava of Tibet, 8th century
In 1959, the Chinese invasion of Tibet threw open the doors to the mysterious realm of Tibetan Buddhism. Suddenly, this ancient tradition was thrust out of it's cloistered society into the mainstream of western culture. Fifty years later, Tibetan Buddhist teachers trained in practices nurtured in monastaries and caves in the Himalayas are jetting around the world, presenting the words of the Buddha to rooms full of international lay practitioners who are hungry for a true spiritual path.
When the Iron Bird Flies traces the astounding path of one of the world’s great spiritual traditions from the caves of Tibet to the mainstream of western culture and asks: In these increasingly chaotic modern times, can these age old teachings help us find genuine happiness and create a saner, more compassionate 21st century world?
"A vivid and engaging account of the movement of the Buddha Dharma... Viewers hearts will have been opened and perhaps melted by the uplifting gift of genuine spirituality as it folows from teacher to student in a pattern free of time, showing us the way to go beyond the suffering and upheavals of our days and years." - Light of Consciousness
An intimate portrait of a young Tibetan boy who is recognized as the reincarnation of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, one of the most revered Tibetan Buddhist masters of the twentieth century. He is known as The Yangsi, ‘the one who has come again into existence’.
Providing a unique window into the world of Tibetan Buddhism, this film is a coming of age story with universal themes, made over a fourteen year period by Mark Elliott, an acclaimed film maker and longtime student of Tibetan Buddhism.
Narrated by Yangsi Rinpoche, the young teacher gives a first person account of his experience of growing up in, and coming to terms with, his unique inheritance. Beginning with his enthronement at age four before a crowd of fifteen thousand people in Kathmandu, Nepal, he is placed in the care of the previous Khyentse Rinpoche’s regent, Rabjam Rinpoche at Shechen monastery. With unprecedented access, the film chronicles his life during his training in Tibetan philosophy and various rituals, along with learning English, intimate family visits, and meetings with masters within (and without) of his lineage.
Filmed largely in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and in Nepal, Yangsi presents everyday events in a reincarnation’s life, where a mother’s love plays as important a role as high tantric empowerments; where tradition is challenged by modernity; and where human relationships are as vital as study. And where doubt challenges devotion when having to live up to great expectations.
“Yangsi’ follows this process up to the age of eighteen, when he for the first time assumes the role of the teacher, embarking on a world tour to continue the work of his predecessor, to be of service to sentient beings. Perhaps never before has this process been so openly and engagingly portrayed, sharing Yangsi’s aim of how Buddhism can be relevant in the modern world.
Nicholas Vreeland walked away from a worldly life of privilege to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1972. Grandson of legendary Vogue editor, Diana Vreeland, and trained by Irving Penn to become a photographer, Nicholas' life changed drastically upon meeting a Tibetan master, one of the teachers of the Dalai Lama. Soon thereafter, he gave up his glamorous life to live in a monastery in India, where he studied Buddhism for fourteen years. In an ironic twist of fate, Nicholas went back to photography to help his fellow monks rebuild their monastery. Recently, the Dalai Lama appointed Nicholas as Abbot of the monastery, making him the first Westerner in Tibetan Buddhist history to attain such a highly regarded position. Monk With a Camera chronicles Nicky's journey from playboy to monk to artist.