Chasing Buddha is an Australian documentary, directed by Amiel Courtin-Wilson about his aunt, Robina Courtin. Amiel met Robina while he was growing up, and became intrigued by the legends about her that circulated in his family after she left Australia. After throwing herself into radical political movements overseas (left-wing, black and feminist), Robina became a Tibetan buddhist nun, basing her work in America.If you think of Buddhist nuns (and monks) as meek and mild souls, lacking in personality, Chasing Buddha (following on from The Cup) should put that notion to rest once and for all. Through interviews with friends and family members, we learn a little of Robina's eventful life prior to becoming a nun. We can see why she is grateful to Buddhism, for giving her a worthwhile channel for her fiery temper. We follow Robina teaching, editing Mandala magazine and travelling across America, and she attacks everything she does with an inspiring mixture of energy, devotion and common sense. Robina is direct and uncompromising with her students, and one of her friends recalls Robina and a similarly hot-headed monk leaving the temple to settle a dispute with their fists.
During the last portion of the film, Amiel follows Robina on several of her counselling sessions with Death Row inmates. It's powerful seeing these condemned men articulating (or struggling to articulate) their feelings. But Amiel indulges in a little sensationalism in these scenes (do we really need the inmates announcing their crimes and sentences dramatically to camera?).
That was the only quibble I had with some of the material included in the film, but occasionally Amiel's organisation of material is frustrating. I suspect he disrupts the chronology at the end to touch on a particular moment in Robina's family history for a big emotional finish. But in doing so, he runs the risk of cheapening the preceding material (and the prison sequences, which last roughly twenty minutes or so, are brought to an abrupt close).Amiel is obviously in awe of Robina (as are many of her students), which isn't necesarily a bad thing for a documentarian. What I liked most about Chasing Buddha was that it revealed some of the extraordinary stories that can be told when the camera is turned onto "ordinary" people.