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Local professor in Dalai Lama film

January 23, 2009

By Dana Massing
dana.massing@timesnews.com
Jan 20, 2009
 
Mercyhurst College professor Thomas Forsthoefel will get his first look at himself on the big screen with the Dalai Lama this week.
 
Khashyar Darvich, director and producer of "Dalai Lama Renaissance," is bringing the film to the Erie campus for two public showings Wednesday.
 
Narrated by Harrison Ford, the documentary follows a group of Western thinkers at a 1999 conference at Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama's home in India.
 
Forsthoefel was there as an observer and ended up being featured in the film. It had its U.S. theatrical premiere in May and has since received numerous awards and played to sold-out audiences around the world.
 
However, Forsthoefel has yet to see it and said he's looking forward to the screenings at Mercyhurst, where he'll join Darvich on stage to answer questions.
 
"Tom is a very important part of the film," Darvich said.
 
He said that in creating the 80-minute documentary, he watched 140 hours of footage and selected a handful of characters who added to the clarity and forward movement of the story.
 
"Tom appears a number of times in the film, and he represents the Midwestern voice of reason amidst a group of prominent and strong-willed authors and notable people who sometimes think from their egos and not from their hearts," Darvich said. "In the film, we follow Tom as he faces the question that the group ultimately faces, which is 'Why are we here to meet the Dalai Lama?' and 'What is the greatest good that we can accomplish?'
 
"I think that Tom comes across as levelheaded and very genuine. Tom is also very important at the end of the film, where he challenges those in the group in a way that changes the story direction of the film. But I don't want to say too much," Darvich said.
 
Forsthoefel, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Mercyhurst, wrote about some of his experiences at the conference in his 2008 book "The Dalai Lama: Essential Writings."
 
The professor recalled approaching the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, who placed a white scarf around Forsthoefel's neck and grasped his hands. That moment is captured in the documentary.
 
Forsthoefel, whose own religious background is Catholic, said the Dalai Lama's message of altruism is one worth hearing, a reason he's encouraging people to see the documentary.
 
"The Dalai Lama is a compelling figure and has really articulated ... a very important vision of wisdom and compassion," Forsthoefel said.
 
Darvich, who described himself as a spiritual person but not of any religion, had interviewed the Buddhist leader before for a documentary about peace.
 
After working on the new film, he said he's come to respect the practical ethics and integrity of the Dalai Lama, especially his message of compassion and seeking one's happiness without doing harm to others.
 
"One of the most satisfying things for me as a filmmaker," Darvich said, "is that audiences have expressed after screenings of 'Dalai Lama Renaissance' that they have been moved and impacted in some way. Audiences have also told me that the characters in the film go through a life-changing journey, and that the audience experiences their own inner journey and transformation through the characters of the film."
 
DANA MASSING can be reached at 870-1729 or by e-mail.
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