Check out the new film, Travellers and Magicians, by Khyentse Norbu a film director and writer -- and holy man from Bhutan. It's not often you get these two professions together, but he's the real deal: they call him a Rinpoche or "Precious One", the third incarnation of a 19th century nonsectarian saint and scholar.
(Picture to the right shows lead actors in the film.)
The film takes place in the director's home country, the beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan country, and in my view, one of the more interesting places around. Experts in this area tell me that Bhutan feels like Nepal 30 years ago with all of the symbolic and religious allure of Tibet. So not surprisingly, this Buddhist theocracy is trying to learn from their neighbor's experience (especially the negative ones) and have decided to open their country slowly to the effects of globalization. They just got TV, for instance. They are also developing and testing new measures like Gross Domestic Happiness. All very cool, welcome and potentially important experimentation if you ask me.
But that's not why you should see the film, of course. Travellers and Magicians stands on its own from a cinematic point of view. More than just a "road film" and travelogue that takes advantage of Bhutan's breathtaking vistas, it's also touching with funny characters and encounters. Mind you, it's no Hollywood action flick (thank goodness) and definitely more languorous in pace. The film has a broader purpose and message as well (perish the thought!). It was made to be a time capsule, a visual record documenting Bhutan's uniqueness at this point of time before it has "50 Starbucks and McDonalds," to quote Norbu. It's like a "tangka painting for the next generation" says Alan Kozlowski, the director of photography. A tangka painting in Buddhist culture "leads people on a learning journey of awareness with messages encoded in them that liberate and inspire people." For this film, the message is about appreciating your life as it is, and realizing that it isn't always better on the other side of the mountain." A useful reminder for us all, I should think.
(Quotes from "On the Road, Bhutan Syle" by Nancy Ramsey, FT Weekend, 01/29.)
Also for more on Bhutan, check out the world's largest book (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0974246905/qid=1107994996/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/103-5981800-8087048?v=glance&s=books). The book by Michael Hawley - and many photographers is 5 feet by 7 feet in size and a visual wonder of images of Bhutan. (I was lucky enough to see it in person at PopTech this past year)