According to Israeli documentary filmmaker Nati Baratz, it’s not the size of your film crew or your equipment that counts; it’s your execution.
Nowhere is this more germane than the stripped-down simplicity seen in Unmistaken Child, Baratz’s graceful 102-minute effort, which opens in Vancouver on Friday (September 11). The movie, which has English subtitles, offers rare glimpses into the rites and rituals of Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Watch the trailer for Unmistaken Child.
Young Tenzin Zopa is searching for the reincarnation of Geshe Lama Konchog, his spiritual teacher, who passed away at age 84 in 2001. Zopa had been his student since age seven. Recognizing the level of Zopa’s devotion, the Dalai Lama selected him to look for Geshe Konchog’s reincarnation, based on signals left by the teacher before his death.
This presented an opportunity to use the young lama as a lens for Baratz’s simple story.
Speaking by phone from his home just outside Tel Aviv, Baratz told the Georgia Straight that Zopa is “the key to this movie”.
“He opened all the doors for me,” he said.
Baratz’s first exposure to Tibetan Buddhism came in 1993, when he was backpacking in Tibet.
“Since then, I felt strongly a moral responsibility for the Tibetan situation and culture since the Chinese occupation, and I felt a strong attraction to Tibet in general,” he said. “And I was looking for an opportunity to examine my obsession with the Tibetan culture.”
In 2002, Baratz said, he started out looking to make a movie about Orthodox Jews searching for hidden Jewish Tibetan tribes. He ended up going to Kopan Monastery in Katmandu, Nepal, for a month. While there, he ran into Zopa, who came to the monastery to talk about his life under his teacher.
“When I heard Tenzin after his talk, I felt like I wanted to make this movie,” Baratz said. “So I came to him, and I figured that the best thing I could do was to be honest, so I told him, ”˜Tenzin, I am not a formal Buddhist, I feel strongly a responsibility for the Tibetan people, and I don’t know what I feel about reincarnation, but I want to make this movie.’ ”
Zopa’s search took four years in all. “After four months, Zopa Rinpoche said that he was giving me the permission to do the film,” he said. “But this is only the beginning. It took Tenzin maybe six more months to agree to put a microphone on himself.”
A child thought to be the reincarnate, Tenzin Phuntsok, was finally found in the Thum Valley, on the border between Nepal and Tibet. There are touching scenes showing the first shaving of the child’s head, and the emotions of the parents as the child is set to leave the village.
“This film is a lot about living with the people for a very long time and gaining the trust and letting them get to know you and to live with them,” Baratz said. “It is a very long process.”