Buddhist Arts and Film Festival returns to the Dairy for a weekend of cinema and spirituality (2024)

It’s common knowledge that the good people of Boulder love a quality film festival.

From the prolific Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema to the award-winning Boulder International Film Festival, to the more niche Chautauqua Silent Film Series, there’s always something for cinephiles to get into when visiting the city.

There’s also no denying that Boulderites love their Buddha. Boulder is home to one of the few Buddhist-affiliated Universities in the U.S., Naropa, has hosted His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on several occasions and even has its own Buddhist publishing company.

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Next weekend, one film festival will combine cinema and spirituality at the third-annual Buddhists Arts and Film Festival, kicking off on May 24 at the Dairy Arts Center. Whether you’re a film buff, a follower of the four noble truths, both, or even neither, the three-day event will feature everything from documentary screenings to poetry workshops to discussions on mortality — offering a little something for everyone.

The Buddhists Arts and Film Festival was founded by Laura Weiss, a filmmaker, activist, and Buddhist, who, before launching the festival, spent several years as a psychiatric nurse before transitioning to hospice nursing. According to Weiss, having a healthcare career helped sprout her curiosity and interest in Buddhism.

“During my time as a nurse, I started getting curious about the mind, relationships, behaviors, and consequences. My whole nursing background revolved around this sense of working with one’s thoughts, and that guided me toward Buddhism,” Weiss said.

Weiss said she was inspired to launch the Buddhist Arts and Film Festival after losing her mother to Alzheimer’s.

“The morning after she passed away, I was in this space of love, grief, loss, confusion, and clarity — all of the things that come with losing your mother. I wanted to think of a way to honor her and dedicate something to her and the idea for the festival came to me. I had some background in film, and with my background in Buddhism, I saw an opportunity to create something like this in Boulder, because there are a lot of people here who are interested in both.”

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After a four-year hiatus during the pandemic, the festival bounced back in 2022; And after another short break in 2023, the festival returns this year stronger than ever, with seven movies, two workshops, live music performances, as well as four post-film screening discussions facilitated by leaders in Buddhist thought, eastern musical theory and spiritual enlightenment.

Hosting one of the post-screening talkbacks is University of Colorado’s Dan Hirshberg, an instructor at the Center for Asian Studies and the Tibet Himalaya Initiative. Hirshberg will help facilitate a conversation following the movie “Tukdam: Between Worlds,” a groundbreaking documentary that explores the Tibetan Buddhist practice of “tukdam” in which advanced meditators consciously control their dying process. Even after being pronounced clinically dead by American scientific standards, the bodies of these meditators stay lifelike and, erm, “fresh” – which is, on one hand, a little spooky, but on the other, totally cool.

“I think this film in particular will raise a lot of questions about the intersection of these traditional meditation practices, their objectives, and their potential goals, and the ways in which we as human beings might experience and understand them within a modern context which is, today, dominated by scientific research and inquiry,” said Hirshberg.

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Hirshberg will be interviewing Andrew Holecek, a leading expert in Buddhist meditation who specializes in lucid dreaming and thanatology — the study of dying. With Hirshberg’s background as an academic, and Holecek’s knowledge of Eastern meditation practices, audiences will have the unique opportunity to discuss something that isn’t always talked about in modern society.

“Whether you practice Buddhism or not, ‘Tukdam: Between Worlds,’ is objectively a fascinating story. Andrew in particular has written a lot about these types of practices as a methodology, and so I think it will be interesting to hear what he has to say about death and dying,” he said.

He continued, “This is a good way to create dialogue about the way we look at death. Death and dying in the West is so embroiled in modern medicine, and instead of focusing on having a good death, the focus is keeping us alive at all costs, for as long as possible, no matter what we end up like. But this film offers us a different view and different approach, and is really about how to make the transition as gracefully as possible.”

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The festival will open on Friday with a performance from special guest Venerable Pannavati Bhikkhuni, a former Baptist pastor turned Buddhist monk who currently runs a hermitage in North Carolina housing more than 70 homeless youth. Her performance alongside the Dharma Voci choir will take audiences through an uplifting program of pop and gospel-inspired songs. The performance will be followed by a screening of “Dark Red Forest,” a documentary detailing the annual pilgrimage of thousands of Tibetan nuns as they travel to stay in wooden houses on the Tibetan Plateau during the coldest months of the year.

Other films that will be screened at the festival include “Buster Williams: Bass to Infinity,” a documentary about legendary jazz bassist (and Buddhist) Buster Williams, as well as “Honeygiver Among the Dogs,” a Buddhist noir that follows the story of an undercover detective who searches for a missing nun.

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While watching a movie can be fun and all, for those who like to get involved with a more hands-on approach, two workshops over the weekend will help immerse attendees into Eastern culture and movement. This includes a workshop led by dancer Santi, in which participants will have the opportunity to explore freedom with improvisation-based movement practices as well as a writing workshop led by poet Brooke McNamara.

McNamara, who is also a teacher and a zen Buddhist, will lead her workshop “Awakening to the Poetic: Meditation & Poetry for Coming Alive” on Sunday, offering a fun way for guests to tap into their creative sides while exploring mindfulness.

According to McNamara, the workshop provides a supportive space for participants to relax, whether they are beginners in poetry, meditation, or both, as well as for seasoned writers who are looking for a way to deepen their practice.

“My biggest goal from my teachings, and biggest joy in life, is to help people uncover their truth. And through writing and poetry, I believe that that truth can be uncovered.”

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The workshop will begin with a 20-minute meditation to help ground the group, where thereafter McNamara will share some of her poems and offer writing prompts to participants. After a period of writing time, the group will be invited to share and discuss their work or their practice. Despite having a degree in poetry, her approach to the workshop is not academic; Rather, she addresses the group from the heart and encourages others to be open as well.

“I believe 150% that zen or liberation or wisdom practices are for everybody. Same with poetry, creativity and writing. It’s all innate to being human, and there is an innate seed of wakefulness in every human. We are, by our very nature, creative beings, given that we are alive and exist in time, we are being creative all the time whether or not we know it. I’ve made it a core value to teach within those identities, to those who follow Buddhism, and to those who do not,” said McNamara.

Weiss echoes McNamara’s sentiment, explaining though the Buddhist Arts and Film Festival is rooted in spiritual teachings, the festival is for everyone and anyone who wants to expand their worldview.

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“Our life is shaped by our mind. And I feel like the more we can pay attention to that and be aware of that, the less conflicted we can be. The principles of Buddhism — compassion, patience, generosity — are open to everyone, whether or not they practice. Everyone can benefit from these things, and getting to know your mind isn’t necessarily a religious thing, it’s a way of being. For anyone to be curious about how to go through life with more awareness is a good thing. Hopefully, this festival can introduce people to — or reacquaint them with — a way of working with their minds and their thoughts and emotions in a gentle, fun, evocative kind of way.”

If you go

What: Buddhist Arts and Film Festival

When: May 24 – 26, 2024

Where: Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Cost: $65 for an all-access pass

More info: baff.film

Buddhist Arts and Film Festival returns to the Dairy for a weekend of cinema and spirituality (2024)

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