The New Kadampa Tradition is an international association of Mahayana Buddhist meditation centers that follow the Kadampa Buddhist tradition founded by Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
Last year street artist Shepard Fairey spent several days painting a three-story-high mural of a Burmese monk on the side of a building in downtown San Diego, and Breadtruck Films’ Jeffrey Durkin was there to film the entire process. Durkin, who works out of a converted Wonder Bread truck—now a mobile film studio, and the company’s namesake— was deeply moved by Fairey’s artwork. It occurred to him that the mural was more than just street art. “There was a religious Buddhist element, there was a Burmese political element, and then there was the art, all coming together in this one image.”
Durkin was working on a film about the painting when he heard a recording of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s first phone call to the U.S. after being freed from house arrest in 2010. Durkin’s mind began to churn, and soon the idea for Art As A Weapon, a documentary film that explores the idea of creativity as a force for social change in Burma, was born.
In addition to Shepard Fairey’s mural, the film will feature a group of Burmese schoolchildren creating art for the first time, as well as two Buddhist monk-poets, both participants in the Saffron Revolution, who are now building libraries and teaching English in Burmese refugee camps.
Durkin hopes that the intersection of these three story lines will breed “a human story” that focuses on the art and the individuals. But he also believes that the film’s Buddhist philosophy is going to be the “really cool surprise.” As Durkin explains, “A real subplot to the movie is how the philosophy of Buddhism matches the philosophy of street art.”
After raising enough money to finance the film, Durkin and his crew will travel to Thailand in January to film the refugee camps there. No release date for Art As a Weapon has been set, but keep an eye out for it in the coming months.
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Photograph by Jeffrey Durkin