DER Documentary

Join Me In Shambhala

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by Anya Bernstein
in Tibetan and Buryat with English subtitles
color, 30 min, 2002




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Once brutally persecuted under the Soviet regime, Buddhism is back in Buryatia in Southern Siberia. But with a past where lamas were killed in prisons and temples burned to ashes, there are few masters left to pass on the tradition. Whether or not the faith survives depends on an incarnate Tibetan lama, scholar and meditational master who travels around remote villages to reawaken Buddhism. The film discovers an oasis of spiritual tolerance in a unique enclave of Siberia where East meets West and draws unexpected parallels between the two.

From the 13th to the 17th century, the mountainous area east of Lake Baikal in Siberia, now known as the Buryat Autonomous Republic, was part of the Mongolian empire. The Buryats were originally nomadic herders practicing shamanism until they were converted to Buddhism by Tibetan lamas in the 17th century. Buddhism remained intricately woven into the Buryat universe for a few centuries, until Stalin initiated his deadly campaign against religion.

A generation grew up and aged without knowing much of their spiritual heritage, when the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s suddenly spurred a tremendous Buddhist revival.Monasteries were being built from scratch, and people were coming in droves, craving to believe, craving to learn. But who will teach them, when the greatest lamas, philosophers and scholars died in the labor camps? The first young Buryats who were sponsored to study in India will return only in 14 years - the amount of time it takes to get a degree of geshe in the Tibetan Gelugpa tradition, which enables one to become a lama. The help once again came from Tibet. In 1993, Tibetans Yeshe Lodoi Rinpoche and his disciple Tenzin gave up their exile home in tropical India for the frozen steppes of Siberia to re-introduce the Buryats to their ancient beliefs.

From Ulan-Ude to the most remote villages of Buryatia, Anya Bernstein, an anthropologist and filmmaker, follows these two remarkable masters on their quest. Narrated by Rinpoche, this stylistically complex documentary is both a study of Buddhism in Buryatia (with its clearly shamanistic rituals) and a map of Buddhist cosmology, weaving together textures and rhythms of everyday life with mediations on emptiness and space.


Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Prize for Outstanding Scientific Documentation, XVI Pärnu Int'l Documentary & Anthropology Film Festival, Estonia, 2002
DC Independent Film Festival, Washington DC, 2003
8th RAI International Festival of Ethnographic Film, London, 2003
Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, New York, 2003
XXI Bilan du Film Ethnographique - Ethnographic Film Festival, Paris, France, 2002
American Anthropological Association Film and Video Festival, New Orleans 2002
III Russian Festival of Anthropological Films, Salekhard, Russia, 2002
NextFrame International Film Festival, Philadelphia, PA and Traveling Film Festival, 2002
Rosebud Film and Video Competition, VA, 2002
Universities: Oxford, Georgetown, Manchester, Indiana, Ithaca College
New York Conference for Asian Studies, NY, 2002
Galleries: Withworth Art Gallery, Manchester; Art-O-Matic, Washington DC, 2002
Visions Cinema, Washington DC, 2002
Tokyo International Forum, Kyoto International Community House, Japan, 2003
Religion Today, International Festival of Cinema & Religion, Italy, 2003
Heard Museum Indigenous Film Festival, 2004
North American Interfaith Network Film Festival, New York, 2004
Asia Film Festival, Finland, 2004
International Buddhist Film Festival, California, 2005
Northeastern Anthropological Association Ethnographic Film & Video Festival, Lake Placid, NY, 2005
Moma Film Foundation, Warsaw, Poland, 2006
2nd Annual Buddhist Film Festival, Arlee, MT, 2007

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