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Victoria Film Festival ’08 Interview – Dalai Lama Renaissance director Khashyar Darvich

Dalai Lama Renaissance - At the Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

“Dalai Lama Renaissance is an 80 minute documentary film about forty of the world’s most innovative thinkers who travel to India in the Himalayan Mountains to meet with the Dalai Lama to solve many of the world’s problems. What happened was surprising and unexpected. Narrated by actor Harrison Ford, the film also features Quantum Physicists Fred Alan Wolf and Amit Gowami from “What the Bleep Do We Know,” and Michel Beckwith and Fred Alan Wolf from “the Secret.” Winner of 9 awards at film festivals around the world, it is the official selection of over 30 international film festivals.” Director Khashyar Darvich on “Dalai Lama Renaissance” which screens at this year’s Victoria Film Festival.

So you’re in a conversation with someone you haven’t met before at the Victoria fest and they ask if you have a film in the festival. What do you tell them to get them to come see your film? What’s your hook?

“Dalai Lama Renaissance” features intimate, personal moments with the Dalai Lama, and is narrated by Harrison Ford. It was filmed with 5 cameramen in the Dalai Lama’s residence in India, and I have been told that “Dalai Lama Renaissance” gives audiences a very unique and intimate experience with the Dalai Lama. One executive of a major Hollywood studio told me that he has seen many films about and with the Dalai Lama, but that “Dalai Lama Renaissance” gives the audience the most intimate and direct experience of him of any other film about him. I have been told that you through the film, you feel that you have spent some time with the Dalai Lama. The film has played to sold out audiences around the world, and after almost every screening of the film, people in the audience come up to me and express how the film has deeply and profoundly impacted their lives.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to wanting to make films.

From an early age, I wanted to express myself through writing, and to communicate through words. I was raised in a small college town in Oxford, Ohio, began writing poetry and screenplays, and then became a newspaper reporter. While producing one of my film scripts, I was given the opportunity to produce and direct a documentary film about a Colorado Rocky Mountain town that was broadcast on the History Channel and PBS stations. I realized that film was a way to impact people in the most powerful way possible, and what became most satisfying for me was to produce and direct films that really touch and impact and even transform audiences in a positive way. I felt that at the end of my life, when I am lying on my deathbed, I want to feel that I did something that was truly worthwhile and that left the world at least a little bit better than when I was entered the world.

Tell me about how this production came together and how the film was made.

I had always found the Dalai Lama one of the most inspiring figures for peace in the world, and a sincere spiritually accomplished person who is making a great positive impact on the world. I had interviewed the Dalai Lama for an earlier documentary film about peace, and the Organizers of the meeting with the Dalai Lama (that later was featured “Dalai Lama Renaissance”) had heard of my previous work with him, and invited me to produce and direct a documentary film about the trip and event. I had only 8 weeks to find a crew of 18 to travel to India to shoot the event.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We actually had 5 different camera men and women on the trip and during production, and I could not be with every cameraman and woman during all of the events that were taking place. I gave each cameraperson directions as to what we wanted to capture and the heart of the story, and then trusted them based on their professional artist sense to capture the interviews and story elements and images that were necessary. We shot a total of 140 hours of footage, and I really didn’t realize the footage that we had until we returned to the United States and I watched all 140 hours of footage. It was only after I watched all 140 hours of videotape, that I understood the heart and structure of the film’s story.

Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Also, what was the most pleasurable moment?

The most difficult part of this production was post production, because to create the very best film, I had to personally watch and write detailed notes on all 140 hours of footage, and then discover what the story and allow the film to emerge in an organic and natural way. Another difficult aspect was to maintain objectivity during editing (since I was also the film’s director and main producer), and be able to see the film in a fresh way and through the eyes of a first time viewer. Test screenings really helped with understanding how audiences saw the film, and what was working and what needed adjusting.

There were several pleasurable aspects of the production, including interviewing the Dalai Lama (who has a very real and profound palpable presence about him), as well as watching the footage and discovering a remarkable moment or shot or interview for the first time. It was like discovering a cinematic gem. I knew that if a piece of footage impacted my emotions or fascinated me, then I believed that most audiences would feel the same. And the most satisfying aspect of this film for me is to watch the film with audiences, hear and experience their reaction, and then speak with audiences afterwards and hear how the film had an impact on them.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

I respect and admire filmmakers who explore new territory in film, and who use film and the visual arts to impact audiences in new and powerful ways. I think that Martin Scorsese does this with powerful images, music and story. It was interesting how Scorsese used original Tibetan inspired soundtrack (via the work on Phillip Glass), and rich cultural colors and images, to draw audiences into the story in his feature film about the Dalai Lama (“Kundun”). I think in Kundun, he used violent scenes of the Chinese invasion of Tibet in a powerful relevant way. Frank Capra expressed pureness of heart and something indelible in the human spirit and character in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is one of my favourite films.

I think that Harold Ramis did something remarkable by entertaining us as well as exploring the nature of time in “Groundhog Day.” How did these and other filmmakers impact my work on “Dalai Lama Renaissance”? I’m not sure that they did, because “Dalai Lama Renaissance” is a unique kind of project, that captures a unique moment in time and meeting between Western innovative thinkers and the Dalai Lama. I knew that this film would require patience, as well as gathering other dedicated crew members who could put their heart into the film. That extra passionate and earnest effort, I believe, has been synthesized into the film, and is one reason that audiences at film festivals around the world have responded to the film. Perhaps the quality of patience in filmmaking, and commitment to stay with a project over time, struck me in documentary films such as “Hoop Dreams,” which required really caring about the subject matter, and committing oneself to a project for years. I think that I also saw this kind of personal commitment to ones film and subject matter in the Academy Award-winning documentary “Born into Brothels.”

How has the film been received at other festivals or screenings? Do you have any interesting stories about how this film has screened before? If this is your first festival, what do you think you will expect at the film’s screenings at Victoria?

We are very happy by how “Dalai Lama Renaissance” has been received so far. It has won 9 international film festival awards thus far (including 3 audience awards), and is the official selection of over 30 film festivals around the world. It has been received very well, as is evident in sold out screening all over the film, including: 4 sold out screening at the Montreal World Film Festival, 3 sold out screenings at FilmFest Munich in Germany, one thousand people attending the film festival opening night screening at the Frozen River Film Festival in Minnesota, sold out screenings at the Cork Film Festival in Ireland, and other sold out screenings. I am pleased that audiences around the world recognize the human story and inner journey in the film.

One memorable film festival screening of “Dalai Lama Renaissance” that comes to mind was at the Taos Mountain Film Festival in New Mexico. One woman in the audience was planning a trip to Nepal before the festival, but after having watched the film, she decided to cancel her trip and begin a socially conscious film festival in her area as a way to make a difference in the lives of others in her community. She told us that it was seeing “Dalai Lama Renaissance” that inspired her to do this.

We have also had prominent film directors and others in the entertainment industry who have watched “Dalai Lama Renaissance” and felt profoundly impacted by it. These experiences give me a deep and humbling feeling of satisfaction, affirming that we have approached making the film with the right intentions and effort.

I really look forward to sharing the film with festival audiences in Victoria, and am grateful to be screening the film here.

If you weren’t making movies, what other line or work do you feel you’d be in?

If I weren’t making socially conscious films, I would make sure and work in a profession that makes a difference to society, like being a teacher, mentoring children, or working to directly help others in some way or doing some kind of social work.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I think that media exposure always serves to make audiences aware of a particular film, especially independent films that do not have the marketing backing and dollars of a Hollywood studio marketing campaign. Critical media also might help to open a dialogue in the public if there are important issues that are addressed in a particular film.

In a practical sense, a film reviewer and reviews help to support films and give audiences confidence to watch or not watch a particular film. They give an important boost to filmmakers and help their film be seen by more and more audiences.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

“Dalai Lama Renaissance” has played in some remarkable historic movie theatres around the world, but I would love to sit with audiences during screenings in the Arclight dome theatre or Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. But, appreciative audiences are the most important thing for me during a screening, no matter where the film is screened.

If you could offer a nickel’s worth of free advice to someone who wanted to make movies, what nuggets of wisdom would you offer?

Find a subject matter that you feel is important and that you feel passionate about, and then do whatever is necessary to get the film made. Bring in people and crew members who have skills and resources that you do not have, and show appreciation for all of their efforts. Filmmaking is a team effort, that is driven by a filmmakers own believe and commitment to a project.

Also, I believe in following ones intuition and gut feelings throughout all aspects of filmmaking. I personally see filmmaking as a spiritual practice for me (as opposed to a religious one), so the same integrity and heart and dedication and respect that I put into my personal spiritual practice, I put into making films.

What do you love the most about film and the filmmaking business?

That I can do something that can inspire and impact audiences in a positive way.

A question that is easy for some but not for others and always gets a different response: what is your favourite movie of all time?

“It’s a Wonderful Life,” because it still has the power to put a tear in my eye, and touch my heart, after all these years, and after all of the times that I have watched it.

This film will be screening at this year’s Victoria Film Festival, which runs February 1st to 10th, 2008. For more information on this film, screening times and general information about the festival, point your browser to the VFF’s official website HERE. – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/01/08 06:25:55
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