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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

On a big Tibet tale, a monk turns director

December 3, 2007

By Ken Eisner

Straight.com

Publish Date: November 29, 2007

Every movie is tough to make. But what if the one you want to do is a
spiritual-minded costume drama set in the eleventh century, high in the
Himalayas, and staffed mostly by Buddhist monks?

Well, if you are Gregory Kruglak, you go for it. The concept for
Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint actually came from its director and
cowriter, Neten Chokling–not a Tibetan Heimlich manoeuvre but the name
of a monk who caught the acting bug on the set of The Cup. As executive
producer, Kruglak's main job was to turn the crystalline gleam in
Chokling's eye into a budget sufficient to get such a difficult project
off the ground.

Kruglak, a Washington, D.C.–based businessman with a long-time interest
in that remote and embattled part of the world, started the nonprofit
Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture 10 years ago. Still, he couldn't
be sure that his persistence would send him up into the clouds above
northern India for a rugged, three-month shoot.

"I'm also part of something called the Bridge Fund," he explains from
his office. "This is probably the largest NGO working on the Tibetan
Plateau. We're doing all kinds of development work, from building
schools and clinics to environmental projects, mostly focusing on
helping the nomad population, which is probably the most impoverished of
the Tibetan peoples."

Away from the Chinese border, however, the budding filmmaker feels that
a well-mounted storytelling effort can do more good than public meetings
or even prayers.

"With all the problems now facing the planet, people need the real
inspiration that comes from something like this. Neten Chokling is a
lama and the head of a monastery–actually, one in India and another in
Tibet. He never even saw a film until he was about 13. His tutors
thought that was a complete waste of time…But he was very close friends
with Khyentse Norbu, who made Travellers and Magicians and The Cup,
which was shot in Neten Chokling's monastery. Although Neten was the
head of the monastery, he had this very modest part as the sidekick to
the star."

Chokling was only 20 during that 1999 filming, and he soon professed an
interest in getting his own projects underway. He fixed on depicting the
life of a Siddhartha-like figure who, through his convoluted early life,
came to resolve the more extreme material and spiritual aspects of
existence.

"The story of Milarepa is such a part of the fabric of Tibetan culture,
he knew it had to be told. There was a lot of learning on the job, for
everyone. It's been tried in the past, but it just didn't work out."

Kruglak says the colourful result, which opens here Friday (November
30), mixed locals and pros (cinematographer Paul Warren worked on
several Matrix spinoffs), with any shakiness in the acting more than
compensated for by the authenticity of faces and paces.

"Now I'm involved in part two, probably to begin shooting in about six
months, because this was always intended to be two movies. We still have
to get to the Saint part."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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