Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Journey from Zanskar: a monk's vow to children
Fredrick Marx (Hoop Dreams) directs this sweeping, adventuresome and tense documentary of sixteen Tibetan children and their 180 mile trek from the contested Zanskar on the border of Tibet to a monk training school in Manali. The school can only take sixteen children and the trip can be life threatening. The pupils, indiscriminately male and female, will be away from their families for ten years in exchange for Buddhist instruction, covering modern subjects along with the crucial imparting of Tibetan culture.
The apprehensive suspense is as palpable as any Everest-scaling film. The children risk zero degree temperatures, steep cliffs and possible attacks from extremists. Yaks and a single father or mother are often the only guide.
The sky-fingering cliffs lean for no one and are neutral in human affairs. The children march forward: Lilliputian soldiers of open eagerness ready to carry knowledge to a hopeful millennium.
The adult monks, including Geshe, do not shy away from the possible fatal perils, but stress the importance of mindfulness in the face of danger and uncertainty. All things are equal, even in death.
The most striking scene of all comes in the school when the parents leave the children surreptitiously without drama or fanfare. Some of the children wail and thrash about , crying hysterically. Mothers, fathers and grandmothers weep steadily as well.
Though very difficult to watch, the segments illustrate the universal truth of mortal leave-taking and impermanence. The child in the adult and the adult in the child are both in evidence here as being one and the same.
The narration by actor Richard Gere gives the quest a warmly affectionate, yet existential tone.
The outcome is indeed uncertain, but desire, hand and hand with suffering, exist together and are curiously coupled. When the children do come closer to Manali it is almost like a verdant cloud city right out of a George Lucas epic. There are trees, rain, phones, and nuts and bananas are tasted for the first time.
This rich and daring film is wisely unassuming with a wide accessibility. Free-thinkers without any affiliation can enjoy this episodic and emotional trip along with learned Buddhists, be they Tibetan or otherwise.
"Journey from Zanskar" is just as it should be: natural, full of life as it happens and open to all.
Write Ian at email@example.com