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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Movie Review: Cinemadope: The Real Lama - "The Unwinking Gaze" (3 stars)

July 25, 2008

By Jack Brown
Valley Advocate
July 24, 2008

Produced and directed by Joshua Dugdale. With the Dalai Lama. (PG)

If there's a surprise in The Unwinking Gaze -- at least, it was a
surprise to me -- it's that the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual
leader and the head of its exile government, says he's not trying to
gain independence for Tibet. Autonomy, yes—but still as a part of the
greater nation of China. A Tibet free to practice and preserve its
own religious and cultural heritage, he says, will still need China
to help it survive. It's an interesting distinction, one that I now
wonder if all of his supporters are aware of, or agree with.

The question of whether or not that's his true intent is at the heart
of much of this film. China refuses to believe it, seeing in the
Dalai Lama a wolf in sheep's clothing, a closet politician whose
worldwide fame gives him an unprecedented platform to usher in
change. In truth, they seem far more wary of his followers than the
man himself, saying that though the monk is a "man of experience,"
the people surrounding him are the real obstacle to beginning
negotiations about the future of Tibet.

One gets the feeling that the continuing bureaucratic runaround is a
clock-eating ploy, and that China is trying to wait out the Dalai
Lama, now in his eighth decade, in the hope that his legions of
followers and supporters will disperse after his death. Meanwhile,
the Dalai Lama presses on. His envoys travel to China, and though
they return from each trip with the same news—it's never a good time
for him to visit—he feels that each trip builds confidence in future
relations. It's akin to slowly adding pebbles to a set of scales;
though it may take time, the weight will shift.

As leader in exile, it appears the Dalai Lama spends an inordinate
amount of time hop-scotching the globe, and The Unwinking Gaze
follows him on the road as he travels to and from India, Canada and
elsewhere. It's here that the filmmakers catch him in his most
unguarded moments (unless you count a scene where they're asked to
stop filming, but then record the microphone that the Dalai Lama has
inadvertently left on—surely that's bad for one's karma?) As a
portrait of a leader, it's refreshingly free of the stage-managed
artifice we've come to expect. It turns out the Dalai Lama has a
mighty giggle, and that his brother sometimes has a hard time
wrapping his head around reincarnation. "To be honest, it's very hard
to accept, isn't it?", he asks.

Those are the moments that make this slight film (it runs just a bit
over an hour) joyous. Even if one doesn't leave the theater feeling
that much will change in Tibet's near future, the steady resolve of
the Dalai Lama, and his buoyant belief in the possibility of change
-- in people and, by extension, nations -- leaves one with the
strength of hope.
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