Friday, September 11, 2009

Unmistaken Child (Rhoades)

“Unmistaken Child” Is a True-Life Religious Quest

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My friend Donna has become a Buddhist. She’s found an inner peace that has transformed her life. She says she’s gained an insight into the ultimate nature of reality. She believes in reincarnation.

I think she’d like “Unmistaken Child,” the new documentary that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema. It’s a film about a Tibetan monk, reincarnation, and the search for the “unmistaken child.”

In it, we follow a Tibetan monk named Tenzin Zopa as he’s sent by the Dali Lama on a quest to find the child who is the reincarnation of Tenzin’s recently deceased spiritual master.
It’s a ritual that has repeated itself over the centuries. But this time the monk is sporting a modern backpack, traveling in part by helicopter, and being filmed by an Israeli filmmaker.

Director Nati Baratz became interested in this real-life event when he and his wife attended a talk by Tenzin Zopa, who at the conclusion asked everyone to pray for his success in locating the reincarnation of his master Geshe Lama Konghog. The world-renowned Tibetan master passed away at age 84 in 2001.

“Tenzin really touched me in a profound way,” says Baratz. “He has a huge heart, and he’s very smart. And when I heard that he’s looking for the reincarnation of his master, I thought this is a movie I must make. I was obsessed with the idea. I couldn’t even sleep. I went to Tenzin and I said that I really respect him, but I don’t know how I feel about reincarnation, and I really want to make this movie, I must make this movie about his trying to find the child.”

To do the film he had to ask permission from a very senior lama. He waited four months while the monks thought about it and in the meantime found out everything about him. “They really checked me out,” Baratz says. “I even passed their astrology check.”

The story is a true-life religious quest that’s “profoundly meaningful and inherently mysterious.” The filming stretched out five and a half years because it took that long for Tenzin to find the child and determine that he was the true reincarnation. The first time we see the child, he’s one and a half years old. By the end of the film, he’s four and a half.

Does Baratz believe in reincarnation? “I think it doesn’t matter what I believe,” he replies quickly. “The point is that Tenzin believes it … so, the focus was for me not whether they found the reincarnation in the child, but the chance to watch Tenzin, and see how he was changing while he was looking for the child, and when he found the child.”

From Tenzin’s perspective, this child will not only become a great teacher, he’s actually Geshe Lama Konghog – incorporating both the master’s past karma and all his knowledge.
In the documentary Baratz shows the child behaving like child, sometimes happy, other times cranky. Crying while getting his head shaved, whining that he’s all alone when his parents leave him at the monastery and return to their village. “If Tenzin had made the film, I don’t think he would have shown that,” says Baratz. “He doesn’t object to the way the film is, but he would have made a much more holy film.”

Even so, the resulting documentary is very mindful and contemplative, allowing us to observe the Tibetan way of life in that faraway land where people live much as they did centuries ago.

Baratz says, “I moved with my wife and two year old daughter to India, just to give you an example of my commitment. It was great for her to live in the monastery and to play with the reincarnated child … We were really fortunate that they agreed to allow us to enter into the most private and hidden part of their life and tradition.”
[from Solares Hill]

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