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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?"

'Dalai Lama' film answers questions

January 28, 2008

JEREMY D. BONFIGLIO
Tribune Staff Writer
South Bend Tribune, IN
Jan 27, 2008


Rick Ray had just learned his audience with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th
Dalai Lama of Tibet, had never been scheduled.

The U.S. producer who sent him to India had used the promise of an
interview to get the writer/director to finance the bulk of the travel
film he was slated to shoot.

So there he was, sitting in a car in India, telling 80-year-old driver
Geeta Ram about his predicament.

"I told him I needed to meet the Dalai Lama," Ray says by telephone from
his office in Ventura, Calif. "He just said 'No problem' and pulled out
this huge Rolodex."

Scribbled on one of Rams' cards was the e-mail address for the Dalai
Lama."I remember thinking, 'The Dalai Lama has e-mail?' " Ray says. "It
wasn't dalailama@hotmail.com, but it was something like that. There was
no way this was real."

Despite his reservations, Ray went to an Internet café and sent an
e-mail request to the address Ram provided. A few days later, he had his
response. In three months, Ray would have 45 minutes with the Dalai
Lama. He could ask 10 questions.

"I'm just glad I got through," Ray says. "What if I had gotten in the
Dalai Lama's spam filter? That must be really bad karma."

Instead, Ray's journey and subsequent interview became the basis for "10
Questions for the Dalai Lama," which will open the ScreenPeace Film
Series on Friday at the University of Notre Dame's DeBartolo Center for
the Performing Arts. Ray is scheduled to attend the screening and will
answer questions following the film.

Part biography, part philosophy and part politics, "10 Questions for the
Dalai Lama" intertwines Ray's own journey with archival footage and his
eventual interview."I've always really admired the Dalai Lama, even when
I was just a kid," Ray says. "The things he says always ring very true
to me. I was in India for 5 1/2 months anyway on the travel shoot, so
this was going to be a side project."

Ray, who teaches documentary film at the Brooks Institute of Photography
in Ventura, has traveled to more than 35 countries and produced 12
films, including "Raise the Bamboo Curtain" with Martin Sheen and "The
Soul of India."

He was now faced with meeting the man who is both the spiritual leader
and deposed head of state of Chinese-occupied Tibet.

During the 90 days Ray had to prepare for their meeting, he contemplated
just what he should ask the Dalai Lama.

"I definitely put it out to all my friends," Ray says. "Of course, some
of the responses I got were, 'Ask him for Richard Gere's phone number,'
and 'You could ask him how he's doing but then you'd only have nine
(questions left).' "Ray was hoping to ask something a little more
meaningful.

He knew that the Dalai Lama embraces science and technology even when
they contradict faith, that he has a sense of humor, and despite the
religious significance to his people, that he still considers himself a
simple Buddhist monk.

Ray's research also revealed that the Dalai Lama would cut an interview
short if he sensed an agenda or insincerity.

"I didn't want to ask something like, 'What's the meaning of life?' "
Ray says. "He would tell me that he doesn't know. He's a humble monk by
trade."

Some of the questions Ray did settle on include:How do you reconcile a
commitment to nonviolence when faced with violence?

Why do the poor often seem happier than the rich?

Must a society lose its traditions in order to move into the future?

"We knew things went well when he asked us to stay at the monastery and
allowed us to interview his staff," Ray says.

The Dalai Lama's monastery, as the film explains, is in Dharamsala,
India. The Tibetan leader has lived there since 1959, when he fled his
country after the Chinese invaded.The history of the Chinese occupation
of Tibet and the Dalai Lama's stance on a peaceful resolution to the
Tibet question are detailed in Ray's film.

After his interview with the Dalai Lama, Ray spent the next three years
searching obscure film archives to find rare footage of the Dalai Lama's
youth, the Chinese takeover and subsequent hardships. He also received
video from Tibetan activists and arranged for film to be secretly shot
to show life in Tibet as it is today.

"It's become this biography, a travel film and a question-and-answer
session," Ray says. "Before we knew what was happening, we were in film
festivals winning awards and getting distribution."

Of course, not everyone has embraced the film, or its subject.

Although Tibetans believe the Dalai Lama represents the reincarnation of
Buddha, some people of other religions still condemn him as a false
prophet, a false idol.Ray is interested to see how his documentary will
be received at a Roman Catholic university such as Notre Dame, but he
believes the Dalai Lama's message should be embraced because it's a
universal one.

"The only resistance this film has received is from Christians and
reform people who are very dogmatic," Ray says. "If people are upset by
a gentle monk who only preaches peace, then they need to look closely at
themselves."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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