Tricycle Film Club

Buddhist films and discussion for the
Tricycle Community

February Film Club: When the Iron Bird Flies

Video Preview

To access this entire video and all other member-supported
content, join Tricycle as a Supporting or Sustaining Member

This post contains audio, video, or images. View media now

Welcome to the Tricycle film club!

In 1959, the Chinese invasion of Tibet threw open the doors to the mysterious realm of Tibetan Buddhism. Suddenly this rich, ancient tradition was propelled into the modern world. When the Iron Bird Flies* takes us on an up-close and personal journey following the astounding path of one of the world's great spiritual traditions from the caves of Tibet to the mainstream of Western culture. Along the way, the film tackles the provocative exchanges between Buddhist practitioners and scholars, Western scientists, psychologists, and educators now at the heart of the emergence of a genuine Western tradition of Buddhism. 

The film investigates the question, "In these increasingly challenging times, can these age-old teachings help us find genuine happiness and create a saner, more compassionate 21st century world?"

Both a fascinating tour of history and a compelling portrait of contemporary spiritual life, the film weaves a vivid and entertaining mosaic of the world of Tibetan Buddhism as it is manifesting in America and the West today.

Throughout the month, director and producer Victress Hitchcock, as well as the film's editor, Catherine Hollander, will be available to answer any questions you have about the making of the film. Post your questions and comments below, and they will get back to you soon.

*When the Iron Bird Flies was shown last summer as part of our online film festival. Since then, the film has been re-cut and re-edited. What we're featuring this month is the final version. Enjoy! 


PLEASE NOTE: If you are having technical difficulties watching the film, please do not leave a comment below. Instead, call our support services at 1-800-873-9871 or email them at They will address your concerns promptly.

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Monica07825's picture

So Beautiful. Thank you Anam Thubten and all who made the film.
Om mani padme Hum

njefferis's picture

What an amazing film. Thank you. My sense of urgency has been growing while at the same time I am realizing that evey moment is my practice. Every thing that I hold on to is just another way of holding on to my ego. It is all about letting go. So simple, yet so profound. Films like this are such good reminders of how fortunate we are to hear Buddha's message of liberation.

Catherine Hollander's picture

What a wonderful comment with which to wrap up our month with you on Tricycle's film club. Thank you! It has been a pleasure to share the film here; your insights and feedback have been truly inspiring. Best wishes from both myself and the director Victress.

silviagp's picture

Where can I watch the film now?
I have been wantin to watch it and now I can only see the trailer here.

micko's picture

Just finished my second viewing. Thank you so much for providing this moving film

Kayla's picture

Nearly missed this film as I remembered watching it sometime last year. For those who thought that
it is the same, this re-edited version is somewhat different and definitely worth a second watching. Enjoy!

smnicc's picture

So very moving...many tears and a sense of connection. My tremendous thanks for this, and your other film (which I immediately ordered a copy of after seeing it twice on Tricycle!) I look forward to being able to obtain a copy of this film soon, and it will be amazing to see what you show us next!

Catherine Hollander's picture

Wonderful! And the film is now being distributed in the US through You can go there for downloads now, and the full DVD release in October of this year.

markkemark's picture

Thank you for such a great film! I was captivated all the way through and now have a deeper appreciation for my practice.

Catherine Hollander's picture

Thank you Mark. We love hearing that about practice!

brian80's picture

Thank you for such a great film!

nancycraft1's picture


Beryl Mallinson's picture

Thank you for such a beautiful film. I listened to the last sentence several times but could not get the words after he said I would like you to ask yourself this question------------ Could someone fill me in. Thank yyou

littleblue's picture

Am I ready to let go of everything?

chenma's picture

This is a beautiful film and very well done. Some of the points I found interesting was how Buddha's teachings need to be presented in the west free from Tibetan cultural trappings, as well as being equally available to all people - men and women, lay and ordained, eastern and western. This is what my Teacher, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, has been doing since he arrived in the west in 1977. I rejoice that others are also doing this so skillfully as well. Thank you for this inspiring film!

jeanetteslinger's picture

Thank you for making the film! I found it to be very informative on the Buddhist path and on the historical perspective with regard to the West. I am inspired by the open hearted vision of the filmmaker and of those who speak within the film.

Catherine Hollander's picture

Thank you! Editing such a large documentary, it was a challenge at times to shape all the material into a single film. The advice from our spiritual mentors was to stay focused on right motivation, which is another way of saying open hearted vision, as you do. I'm so glad it comes across.

abacoarchitects's picture

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
The film gives me hope for the future.
It is an amazing story that a 2500 year old wisdom might be able to save the earth
and transform the world.
Your film will inspire many that will help complete the process.

lotusrainfive's picture

Thank you for this wonderful presentation of artistic insight, as a soon to be inducted Dharma teacher (may) in the Japanese tradition of Buddhism. I have found many teachings and insights from this movie that will travel with me in my journey of life and spirituality, and i thank you from the bottom of my heart _/|\_ Gassho in Oneness.
Nirvana is not a concept; it is reality; it is life itself.=Rev. Gyomay Sensei

Catherine Hollander's picture

Best wishes on your path as a teacher. We (I edited the film with director Victress Hitchcock) are so happy that film's essentially nonsectarian message comes across so well to so many practitioners of Buddhism. Gassho!

mspromocode's picture

All the best to you! My heart is touched to the core,Thank you for making this superb collection of different aspects in Buddhism. Thank you for your time and commitment to complete this film and making it available to us and it may change many peoples lives to the better, planting seeds of reflection, bodhicitta and true awareness. This is for sure one of the most touching and deep movie I have seen in modern times.
MsPromocode (Owner:

dixraile's picture

Wow! You've left me speachless . . . thanks for that!

indigomoonbc's picture

Amazing! Thank you so much for this wonderful film. When I first started to watch I had no idea it would touch me so deeply....thank you.

egaige's picture

Thank you for this wonderful film. There are no words that can adequately describe the depth of peace and understanding that washed over me. The interconnectedness of the sangha came through like a loving and warm caress. This film is a blessing.

selampert's picture

I appreciate this film and the labor of Love and Commitment it reflects in its every frame.

I thought the future of Buddhism was captured in the reflective words of Kelsang Wangmo and Geshe Kelsang Damdul. Kelsang Wangmo describes the nun’s plight in a Tibetan system designed for women not to advance effectively summarizing the women issues around male privilege. Geshe Kelsang Damdul says unless there is “equal opportunity in terms of education, everything for women we are not going to achieve very much.”

I think we have come to realize that being human on this planet involves a complex interaction of three human components – the mental (thinking, rationalizing, planning), the physical (body sensations, fixing, doing) and the emotional (feelings). Activities and forms that spring from the mental and physical components have been considered “male”. Those swelling up from the emotions and eventually the heart are considered “female”. No matter what your gender every human on the planet has mental, emotional and physical expressions every moment of the day.

Buddhism (the lineages) have for centuries interpreted, reinforced, built structures that are dependent on the thinking, questioning, rationalizing side of our human nature. The Dharma’s incredible gift to humanity is unquestionable and undeniably true. But, it has been transmitted to us at the exclusion of fully honoring the emotional side of us. This is evident in Buddhist texts that describe emotions as harmful and destructive. The aspects of being female have been sequestered. The male has been embodied.

I believe to fully integrate Buddhism in the 21st century, the centuries of powerful mind practices must yield, support and include practices that honor the awakened feelings of emotions; not power over or suppress them but embrace them as an important part of the human journey. They are there to lead us somewhere beyond thinking. When all the Buddhist foundation practices of clearing the mind join with new foundation practices of clearing the emotions, the balanced partnership potentially leads us to the real journey. The cessation of suffering and the discovery of the extraordinary openness in the heart of Being. Beyond thinking, beyond feeling, beyond sensations, beyond self – the space where you are aware of your entire Being as a clear, lucid, authentic energetic expansion of the heart - opening and expanding every moment, every breath.

I see this struggle for the balance of male and female, the push and pull of emotions and thinking in every global news story past and present. We experience it every day in our individual life. As this century unfolds, Buddhist monks AND nuns in partnership can bring this balance into Dharma practice. Together they can embody the change, growth and expansion of Buddhism’s new growth cycle – the journey to its heart.

Thank You for this wonderful insightful film !!

Victress Hitchcock's picture

Hear, hear.. what a beautiful way of expressing the Buddha Nature we all share. The imbalance of male and female is a global problem, and hopefully this new more balanced manifestation of Buddhdharma can help to bring the harmony and balance we need to survive. Thank you for sharing your insight.

Victress Hitchcock's picture

And by the way, have you ever seen our last film, "BLESSINGS: The Tsoknyi Nangchen Nuns of Tibet"? It explores a little known, and very inspiring group of nuns living in the remote mountains of Eastern Tibet, who have historically been considered some of the most advanced yogic practitioners in Tibet. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Lama Tsultrim Allione provide some of the context of for this lineage of female practitioners within the traditionally patriarch Tibetan Buddhist system. You can read more about it at:

selampert's picture

THANK YOU - I have not explored the Blessings film - I appreciate the referral !!

mitaky's picture

Another good link to add to my blog Thank you.

Catherine Hollander's picture

Yes, BLESSINGS would be perfect to add to your blog. Contact us at if we can help with that.

Daisymom's picture

Second time watching the film in twenty four hrs! Thank you so much for making this beautiful film, documenting how we came to be, where we are in Western Buddhism. We're the second wave here! What a fortunate time in life to be here, sitting, learning to be awake. I am rooting all the way for more and more nuns to be geshes. I revere Tenzin Palmo and her struggles also within this patriachy. As we're changing, so is Buddhism. Namaste!

acargile's picture

thanks so much- a joy to watch. very inspirational :)

orlirose's picture

Thank you for this film. If there was ever a film about Tibetan Buddhism that is accessible it is this one. I thoroughly enjoyed your film. It is inspiring. I wish I had more time to watch it again right away...hmmm.

tameer mathias burki's picture

beautiful film .. it not only is pictures and words, but transports the energy .. while watching I felt myself getting calmer and more present and I felt sort of a global connection, global sangha .. thanks so much !

lfleming1019's picture

I absolutely loved this film. So many aspects resonated with me. Similarly to what someone wrote above, I have been curious about my obvious heart connection to Tibetan Buddhism since I was first led to read Trungpa Rinpoche's "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism". Despite feeling I was "in way over my head," I knew it was no accident that I'd stumbled upon that book, and that something profound was taking place in my life. If someone had told me twenty years ago that I was to become a Buddhist, I'd have said, "Yeah, right!" And yet, here I am, an American woman, living in a small Southern town packed with Evangelical Christians, devoted to a daily practice of meditation and a lineage of practitioners who couldn't be more different from me culturally. The film spoke beautifully about this mysterious connection that many of us feel.

As a Shambhala Buddhist, I of course loved the bits about Trungpa Rinpoche, Fleet Maul and Reggie Ray. I recognized George Gomez as a fellow practitioner at Warrior's Assembly, which gave me an especially personal connection to the film. Kelsang Wangmo's story was deeply moving to me, as was Bridget Bailey's. I felt a kinship with everyone who appeared.

I will be sharing "Iron Bird" with family and friends, as I, too have struggled to explain to them why I am a Buddhist and what that means, in a way that they can understand. And I will watch it again.

Thank you so very much for this beautiful offering.

Lorre Fleming

Victress Hitchcock's picture

Thanks so much, Lorre. It happened for me 40 years ago with Trungpa Rinpoche's "Meditation in Action"! That kinship we feel is the flavor of this new Western sangha that is emerging. Blessings to you, Victress

David Gould's picture

From Tasmania, thank you for a truly inspirational film, so full of the Dharma that resonates in the hearts and lives of so many in the West now. Somehow the Tibetan expression of the Dharma touches us in the West. Karmically many of us cannot explain this, but this film brings to life this coming home experience in the lives of thousands. Like many, Bridget touched me with the courage of her 5 month retreat, as did Wendell, the African-American Tibetan language student. I have for too many years struggled with my own inexplicable karmic resonance with Tibetan Buddhist culture, and this film is something I pray is made available for sale in the region 4 DVD format. Where can I get this to show and share?

Victress Hitchcock's picture

Hi David,

So good to hear from you. You perfectly describe what everyone, including myself, feels when they encounter Tibetan Buddha Dharma... coming home. We are hoping the film will make it to Tasmania for a screening this year. Meanwhile, the DVDs we sell in Australia are Region Free. So far everyone we have sold to has been able to play it. In fact, there are now DVDs for sale from a sangha in Albany so the shipping isn't so expensive. You can find out more on the News page of our website - Enjoy!

jbreiby's picture

What a wonderful film! In the part of Alaska where my wife and I live, we seem to be a Sangha of two--except for Tricycle, which keeps us abreast. When I try to explain to friends about Buddhism, I can see their eyes rolling back in their heads. So now I'll order a copy of this and let them watch it, and then they'll see what a beautiful gift the Dharma is! I like that the film isn't all sugar-coated, that negative aspects are in there with the positve: issues of women not being given the same treatment as men, for example, or how Tibetan Buddhism has cultural trappings that aren't always useful or accessible to Westerners. All in all, I found it balanced, clear and moving.Thank you so much, Victress. John Breiby

Victress Hitchcock's picture

Hi John,
The film is currently available for individuals in the US and Canada via download at Alive Mind Cinema - The cost is $19.95. As a sangha ( albeit a very small one!) you may be eligible to purchase an educational version ( accompanied by a wonderful facilitator's guide). Alive Mind will release the film for DVD Home Use in a few months. I would suggest you contact Serena - and ask her what your best option is.
Blessings, Victress

jterrasa's picture

Inspiring. Thanks!

nanaMont's picture

Well worth watching. I really enjoyed the blend of history and modern day perspective. Thanks for this film.

Paul Stevenson's picture

Great film. So much happiness. Having good Dharma teachers is such a blessing. I like the idea of Buddhist concepts not being tied to any particular culture. One strange thing about "Western Buddhism" is that, in and around Washington, DC, the so-called capital of the free world, a region with over 5M people, there are only small pockets of pockets of "western" practitioners. Only a few centers, sometimes in homes. Even the FPMT only has a small center without a permanent teacher, that only recently was able to buy a "permanent" center. Why? No idea. Western Buddhism is still a work in progress, I guess. Like us. Thank you.

Victress Hitchcock's picture

Hi Paul,

I wanted you to know that the folks at BuddhaFest are organizing a screening of the film in DC in October. Last year we showed a rough cut of the film at their June event.. which is a great place to connect with sangha. If you haven't been, you might want to check it out this June. And get on their mailing list to find out about the fall showing of IRON BIRD. Thanks so much

MarkG's picture

Dear Victress
Thank you for a wonderful film. Warm, gentle, direct and informative. The spirit of the Buddha lies within this film. I will be purchasing a copy of the DVD and showing it at home to friends.
Mark G

maryelizabeth.sheehan's picture


T_Whynott's picture

Beautiful film. Thank you so much!

gr82brees's picture

Absolutely fantastic, thank you Ms. Hitchcock. Everyone needs to own this film because it explains in 90min what one cannot explain to friends and families in years! Best I've seen on Tricycle.

Ron.Shimoff's picture

Hello Vincent,

I always wondered about the origin of of Tibetan Buddhism, and about this spiritual tradition. In the 90s I had a close friend who become Buddhist, and I had the opportunity to learn a bit about the culture. But then she left to London and I got a new job.... so I didn't have the time to continue exploring it.

I'm going to get the movie from the address mentioned above, and watch it. The trailer seems very interesting. You know that the meaning of the word "Budha" is a person who wakes up....
Maybe its time for me to wake up. To look into the spirit and not material.

Thanks, Ron (owner of
(and maybe a blog about Buddhism next time?)

Victress Hitchcock's picture

Hi Ron,
I hope you enjoy the movie. Your description of what it means to "wake up" is definitely central to what the film is about. Let us know your thoughts after watching.