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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Interview: Nati Baratz of 'Unmistaken Child'

July 4, 2009 Thursday July 2, 2009

As they have for hundreds of years, a Buddhist monk goes on a journey in
search of the "unmistaken child" who is the reincarnation of his master. The
quest is unchanged in its goal and its procedures. But this time the monk is
sporting a very modern backpack, traveling in part by helicopter, and the
journey is being filmed by an Israeli documentary film-maker.

I spoke to that film-maker, Nati Baratz, as he was traveling through the
United States to talk about the film, "Unmistaken Child."

Tell me how this project came about.

Back in 93 I fell in love with Tibetans, especially the people, and I felt a
moral responsibility about the suppression by the Chinese. I went home to
study cinema and I wanted for a long time to make a film abut Tibet, to
bring to the audience the experience of the culture and the qualities. The
Tibetans have this happy nature, they are calm and non-violent and they have
developed a lot of wisdom over thousands of years. Most of all, they have
this endless commitment to benefit others. You can read about it but to
experience it is different. The Buddhist culture is the best thing I have
found in my life until today. It is not formal but I am connected to it,
more Buddhist than anything else, more than my Jewish background.

And how did you decide on this particular story?

I wanted to make a film about a hidden Tibetan tribe. In the course of this
I went to Nepal and joined the meditation to deepen my understanding of
Tibetan Buddhism. There I heard this talk about the life of the master who
had just died. The lama Tenzin Zopa touched me with his huge heart when he
asked us all to pray for the swift and unmistaken return of his master. I
knew this is the movie I have to make.

Do you believe in reincarnation? Specific, individual reincarnation of the
master's spirit in one unmistaken child? Do you want the audience to believe
in it?

That is a tricky question. I want people to contemplate and think, not just
experience the film but engage with it. I tried to challenge the viewer. You
see one part of the film and the child looks holy, in another he looks like
a normal child. I want to make the audience decide for themselves. That idea
is connected to Buddhist teaching. They should not believe anything you say
but should examine by themselves.

How long did if take?

It was a 5 ½ year film-making. I moved with my wife and two year old
daughter to India, just to give you an example of my commitment. It was
great for her to live in the monastery and to play with the reincarnated
child. It was tough on my wife but she had a great experience. We were
really fortunate that they agreed to allow us to enter into the most private
and hidden part of their life and tradition.

How did you get their cooperation?

I told him I am not a formal Buddhist but I have a strong commitment to the
Tibetans amd really want to make this movie. It was a chance to show the
world the qualities of the master. The Dalai Lama is famous and so many
people are benefiting from it. It is not a problem to be famous, it is what
you make out of it.

I had to ask permission from a very senior lama. It was a three month
journey that really tested my patience and insistence. I passed an astrology
check. And it took Tenzin quite a while to really trust me. They are monks
so they are not used to the camera, they are modest. He is an amazing
example. For me, all the reincarnation is just a narrative motor to have
enough suspense and interest in the film to experience Tenzin's journey of
maturity, from a servant to a leader, bringing the treasure back home to the
Tibetan people.

As the father of a two-year-old while you were filming, how did that affect
the way you portrayed the family asked to give up their two-year-old?

I tried to give an intimate and close look at the story to give people the
option to experience a different way of thinking. When the parents give up
the child, this is the most touching part of the film for me, because they
do it for the benefit of others. It is very inspiring that people give up
their most precious thing for the benefit of others. That is what makes the
film a feature-like experience. It is a documentary with an amazing
character on an amazing journey that is very spiritual, a transformation.

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