Along with Richard Gere, Rudy Wurlitzer is on the advisory council of the Buddhist Film Foundation. Easily one of the more brilliant and fascinating characters from Hollywood’s second great era, in the ‘70s, Wurlitzer scripted (if that’s the right word) the heavily contemplative road movie Two-Lane Blacktop.
“He’s got a deep and sincere connection to the study of Buddhism, his rather checkered cinema history notwithstanding,” says Wurlitzer’s friend and colleague Gaetano Kazuo Maida, talking to the Straight from his office in San Francisco, before adding that among Wurlitzer’s more recent work is the screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1993 film, Little Buddha.
Not to get carried away with this digression into a single screenwriter’s career, but there is a tangible connection between Wurlitzer and the film Dead Man, which director Jim Jarmusch evidently based in some ways on an unproduced Wurlitzer script called Zebulon. Billed as an acid western at the time of its 1995 release, Dead Man—which needs to be appreciated on the big screen—is one of the less obvious films that Maida has programmed for the first-ever appearance of the International Buddhist Film Festival at the Vancity Theatre, from July 26 to August 1.
It was this kind of imaginative and thoughtful curating that got Vancity programmer Tom Charity interested in the 10-year-old festival, which has made stops around the world in cities including London, Bangkok, and Amsterdam.
Maida says he originally went to see the Jarmusch film, described as a “masterpiece” in the IBFF’s program notes, because of its woolly Neil Young soundtrack.
“But when I saw it,” he continues, “I understood that this film conformed to what we call a bardo blues scenario. In Tibetan, the word bardo means ‘interval’ or ‘gap’, and it refers to the space in their tradition between the end of this life and the beginning of the next.”
Maida explains that Johnny Depp’s character, William Blake, experiences the afterlife turmoil described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Although he’d always viewed the film as only “implicitly” related to Buddhism, Maida actually discovered—upon seeing the film on the Castro Theatre’s 12-metre screen in San Francisco in 2005—a brief but overt reference to the last words of Buddha, as recorded in the Pãli Canon.
“I’d been watching for over 10 years at this point,” Maida says, “and I saw an explicit indication from Jarmusch that he knew this was a Buddhist story.” He also makes the Straight promise not to reveal where that happens, exactly, but the very approachable Mr. Maida will accompany the festival to Vancouver for those who’d like to ask.
The program of 15 films also includes Ron Fricke’s ravishing 2012 work Samsara, as well as such diverse fare as the Argentine drama Un Buda, a Thai mystery film called Mindfulness and Murder, and Johanna Demetrakas’s documentary Crazy Wisdom, about Chogyam Trungpa, who was a veritable (and controversial) rock star to western Buddhists.
For more info, including scheduled Skype Q & As and more, visit www.viff.org/.