Mickey Lemle’s new film revisits the legacy of the Tibetan spiritual leader 25 years after his original documentary was released.
Perhaps no religious leader has been as consistently visible on the world stage over the past 50 years as the 14th Dalai Lama, the revered Buddhist monk who fled Tibet in 1959 to escape Chairman Mao’s communist regime. In the decades since, he’s patiently advocated for the Tibetan people’s autonomy while at the same time establishing a worldwide reputation for religious collaboration and innovative research into the links between Buddhism and science.
The Dalai Lama’s profile got a boost from filmmaker Mickey Lemle’s 1992 documentary Compassion in Exile and now Lemle returns 25 years later with this follow-up reexamining the Dalai Lama’s legacy, taking the celebrations surrounding his 80th birthday in 2015 as a departure point. Like its predecessor, the new film will prove of most interest to his holiness’ admirers and devoted followers. But it also offers a good deal of appealing content for broader audiences that may deepen their appreciation for this charismatic leader who has successfully forged widely admired religious and secular roles with a surprising variety of high-profile personalities, including presidents and A-list actors.
Although Martin Scorsese’s little-appreciated 1997 feature refers to him by the Tibetan high-honorific Kundun, the present Dalai Lama was born to peasant parents in eastern Tibet in 1935. After briefly recapping his subsequent identification as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of two, the film segues to China’s 1950 forced annexation of Tibet. After nearly a decade attempting to accommodate Mao’s military representatives in Lhasa, his holiness and his family slipped away in the middle of the night in 1959, crossing overland by foot and horseback to northern India, where refugee Tibetans established an exile government in the Himalayan hill town of Dharamsala.
Cutting back to Lemle’s Compassion in Exile, the new film revisits some of the key interviews from that documentary, when the filmmakers were given unprecedented access to his holiness and his family members. These discussions focus primarily on the sometimes esoteric religious practices of Tibetan Buddhism and the restive political situation inside Tibet, as well as the challenges of resettling Tibetan refugees.
It’s been nearly 30 years…