By Dolma Gunther
A scholarly young monk embarks upon an intriguing journey only to discover that the wisdom he seeks is much closer than he imagines, and much stranger than he could possibly envisage.
Finding Manjushri was produced on a shoestring and filmed on location in Bir, Himachal Pradesh, in northern India, with a cast of amateur actors drawn from the local refugee Tibetan community. Preproduction stretched over ten weeks, utilising local trades and craftspeople to produce sets, props and costumes under the supervision of director of photography Al Donnelley and director Dolma Gunther.
The shoot itself took 15 days, complicated by weather – no less than the worst subcontinental monsoon in 15 years – and the vagaries of the Indian electrical supply system. One complicated scene had to be lit with candles after a tree fell on powerlines near the town on the morning of the shoot. The mule that appears in the film is a pig in the original story – but the pig who arrived on the day of the shoot was an impossible prima donna, and had to be recast.
The rough-cut of the film premiered in a tiny guest house in front of almost the whole village much to the delight of the local cast and crew. The film was only made possible with the wonderful support of the local community and the efforts of a number of people. Most notably, Orgyen Tenzang – who plays Lodro – translated the script into Tibetan and cheerfully endured being soaked to the skin time and time again in freezing weather.
Lodro and Dolma on set
The whole production was a journey in itself, rich with cultural exchanges and common warmth.
The entire inspiration for the whole film was DJK Rinpoche, of course and that the original story is a story that Rinpoche occasionally tells and that is where I first heard the story. Rinpoche also gave permission for me to do the film and reviewed versions of the script that I wrote.
At the moment the film is still in the last stages of postproduction and is being entered into short film festivals around the globe but we are trying to raise money to cover the cost of a professional sound editor and a colourist. So any donations or contacts are very welcome!
Lodro is a brilliant young monk at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery high in the Himalayas in India. He excels at debate and is top in his classes in philosophy and dialectics. As blessed as he already is, he is consumed by the wish to encounter Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, in order to improve his studies. Every day he takes out a postcard of Mount Wutaishan and strokes it lovingly; for he knows that Manjushri has promised that anyone who makes pilgrimage to Mount Wutaishan will meet Manjushri in person. One day he gets up courage to ask Rinpoche, the head of the monastery, to go on pilgrimage.
Al with cast
In his attempt to reach the fabled mountain of Wutaishan, Lodro battles adversity in the form of unrelenting storms, seductive women, bullying cooks, local thuglords and worst of all, a growing disillusionment and deconstruction of his own expectations and conceptual frameworks.
What Lodro needs to learn is that often, in the getting of wisdom, it is what you lose that is more important than what you gain. When Lodro’s desperation reaches such a point that the lines of reality, illusion and magic all seem to blur, he realises that the blessings of bodhisattvas can manifest in extraordinary ways, and that Manjushri is closer than he ever imagined.
The link to the film is: www.findingmanjushri.com
Finding Manjushri, A film by Dolma Gunther and Al Donnelley