Reviews

International Buddhist Film Festival: Programme roundup

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the International Buddhist Film Festival, a celebration of films inspired by Eastern philosophy and held in conjunction with the Buddhist Art Forum at the Courtauld Institute of Art. With a varied programme encompassing both drama and documentary from Japan, China and other countries throughout South East Asia, CineVue took a look at a selection of the films on offer.

David Grubin’s The Buddha (2010) is a comprehensive guide to the birth of Buddhism, retelling the story of Siddhartha Gautama as he discovers the path to enlightenment and becomes renowned the world over as the Buddha. Narrated by everyone’s favourite Hollywood Buddhist convert Richard Gere, and with contributions from the Dalai Lama as well as other thinkers and writers, The Buddha is a crash course in the origins of the religion. It’s all got a slightly educational feel to it, and at times is rather like sitting through an extended R.E. lesson, but its accessible tone and blend of animation and interviews provides an intriguing introduction for anyone even slightly curious about a philosophy which is so different to the monotheistic mode of thought of Western cultures.

Perhaps one of the most compelling films featured in the programme is Aung San Suu Kyi – Lady of No Fear (2011), directed by Anne-Gyrithe Bonne. Following the National League for Democracy’s by-election victory last week, the film is a timely reminder of the sacrifice of long-suffering campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.

Whereas last year’s Luc Besson effort The Lady (2011) somewhat lacked in energy with rather stilted lead cast performances, this documentary tells her story through archive footage and from the people closest to her and late husband, Michael Aris. It’s a sincere, authentic portrayal, all the more refreshing for its lack of Hollywood veneer. The Burmese struggle for democracy is also featured in Jeanne Hallacy’sInto the Current: Burma’s Political Prisoners (2011), and will be screened as a double bill with Bonne’s film on Sunday 15 April.

From Japan, Abraxas (2010) tells the story of monk who attempts to find nirvana through rekindling his love of punk rock. It’s an unusual premise, but a nonetheless satisfying watch – with strong direction from Naoki Katô and a solid cast, the film takes a unique perspective on how to reconcile the tenets of Buddhism with with modern day living. It plays on a theme common to both The Buddha and Lady of No Fear, exploring the core notion that sacrifice and suffering are necessary to finding fulfilment. It also features a pretty awesome guitar solo out at sea.

The International Buddhist Film Festival takes place in London from 11-15 April. For more info and to purchase tickets, visit buddhistfilmfoundation.org.

Claire Ramtuhul