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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Director Khashyar Darvich Talks Dalai Lama Documentary

June 1, 2008

Ben Hamamoto
The Nichi Bei Times Weekly (San Francisco, CA, USA)
May 29, 2008

courtesy of Larsen Associates

At the turn of the millennium, the Dalai Lama invited 40 of the
West's leading thinkers in their respective fields to his home in the
Himalayan Mountains of Northern India to discuss the world's problems
and potentially come up with a way to solve them.

The week-long conference, however, did not unfold how one might
expect, and filmmaker Khashyar Darvich and an 18-person crew from the
Wakan Foundation for the Arts were there to capture it. Their film,
"Dalai Lama Renaissance," which is narrated by silver screen icon
Harrison Ford, opens this week at the Roxie in San Francisco.

The Nichi Bei Times got a chance to catch up with Darvich and discuss
the film, its message and the Dalai Lama.

Nichi Bei Times: First off, how did you get involved in this project?
How did you know this was something you wanted to make a film about?

Khashyar Darvich: I interviewed the Dali Lama for a past project
about peace, so I was invited by the Westerners embarking on the trip
with him eight weeks before they were going to leave for the trip.

NBT: Going into it, did you have any idea of how the story would emerge?

KD: None whatsoever, I had the same optimism that everyone else did
on the trip. I thought, 'Hey, these are some really brilliant
people.' I really thought they would come up with concrete solutions
for the world's problems. When they started to clash [and things
didn't happen as planned], I started to see that that's where the story was...

Their intention was to impact the world in a positive way, really. It
didn't happen how they envisioned, but it did happen through the
individual transformations. The Dalai Lama said in the film, 'The way
that you change the world is that you first change yourself. You
first change yourself and then you change those around you; it's
almost like a ripple effect.'

For instance, Fred Alan Wolf, the cantankerous quantum physicist,
went on later to star [as an interview subject] in the [New Age
documentary] films, 'What the Bleep Do We Know?' and 'The Secret.'
Michael Bernard Beckwith was in 'The Secret' as well. Thom Hartman is
now the host of a show on 'Air America.'

NBT: What was the journey like for you?

KD: It was a wonderful environment; Northern India is very beautiful.
But I was really focused on making sure we got the job done... After
I came back to the U.S. and I watched all 140 hours of footage,
that's when I really experienced the conference. Although I did feel
impacted when I was actually on the trip, especially when I
interviewed the Dalai Lama.

NBT: Is that typical for a director to go over all the tapes themselves?

KD: Some do, but most don't. I realized that it was a very intricate
story, with a lot of subtle scenes and aspects to the film. I felt
like in this case I really had to watch everything.

NBT: With that much footage, there must have been some tough
decisions in terms of what got left in and what was cut.

KD: I had a lot of things that I thought were really remarkable but
they didn't fit in the 81 minute final film. I was the first one who
was editing... and I edited from 140 hours of footage and brought it
down to two hours. I loved everything in that two hours; it was all
interesting for me personally, but I knew I had to bring an outside
eye in, filter it down to the final product. I brought in an editor
who worked on the [Academy Award-winning] documentary film 'American
Dream' and he brought it from two hours to its final 81 minutes. He
cut things that I loved, but filmmaking really is a collaborative
medium. You can't have ego or be attached to things if you want the
best outcome.

NBT: You mentioned feeling impacted at the conference when
interviewing the Dalai Lama. What was that experience like for you?

KD: When the Dalai Lama spoke, the whole room filled with a tangible
presence of compassion and of warmth. What I learned from him was
that compassion and being kind to others is fundamentally who we are
as human beings, but we let things get in the way of that essence of
compassion; we have fears, certain pop psychology in our mind, it's
so simple and so basically that's something I really came away with.
I feel like some situations feel a little complicated, or if there is
anything that I'm not sure of as it's going on, I can always hold
onto that basic idea of being compassionate and open-hearted.

NBT: To switch gears a little bit, how did Harrison Ford get involved
in the project?

KD: Well I knew that I wanted a strong narrator in the film,
especially someone who would be a good complement and balance to the
Dalai Lama... We wanted someone who could come in with his or her
narration and anchor the ideas of the film.

Harrison Ford is real earthy, sort of an every man's man. His voice
is so grounding, I thought he would be great in the film. He was the
first one on our list. We called his office, explained the project.
They said he was flying on an airplane someplace; I heard that he
read the summary, and he felt like it was a project he would like to
support. After he landed, he called his assistant and said yes. Six
weeks later, he was in the recording studio. He was really generous
with his time; at first he thought he would read each line three
times, but he would always ask me 'is that enough?' and it ended up
being about ten. He was just a really down to earth person who cares
about the subject matter. He obviously didn't do it for the money. We
offered to have him picked up in a limo, but he drove himself to the
studio in a hybrid Prius.

NBT: 'Dalai Lama Renaissance' won an award at the 'Global Peace Film
Festival Japan.' How have Japanese audiences reacted to the film?

KD: It was the only non-Asian film at the festival that won an award,
and [it was so popular] it will screen at the same festival [two
years in a row]. There are two distributors in Japan who are very
interested, so I'm sure it's going to be released there. I know there
is a lot of interest in the Dalai Lama in Japan and I know he has
been to Hiroshima at least twice. When I interviewed him for a film
about peace, one of the segments of the film was about Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. He is very interested in Japan and part of his interest
stems from his feelings of compassion for what happened to the
Japanese people at the end of World War II.

In the end though, the story is a universal, human story of an inner
journey: from ego to realizing that ego isn't a way to solve the
world's problems, or personal problems, working with your own lack of
peace or lack of compassion. I'm very happy that audiences around the
world really empathized.
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