BuddhaFest 2011

The second annual Buddhist film festival in Washington, D.C. Sam Mowe


Good news for those looking for signs of enlightenment in our nation’s capital. From June 16 to 19, the second annual BuddhaFest took place right outside Washington, D.C., at the Artisphere’s Spectrum Theatre in Rosslyn, Virginia. Featuring Buddhist films, teachings, and meditation, BuddhaFest was organized by Eric Forbis and Gabriel Riera, two members of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington (IMCW). (Tricycle cosponsored the festival.)

“We want to serve the dharma by telling stories,” says Riera. “Films are a really good way of spreading the dharma.”

So it seems: over 1,000 people attended the four-day festival, and the combined audience of all the events exceeded 3,000. “A real sense of sangha was formed over the course of just a few days,” Forbis notes. Indeed, with speakers like Sharon Salzberg, Ruth King, Roshi Enkyo O’Hara, and Tara Brach, Rosslyn hosted a range of contemporary Buddhist voices.

“There are very few events where people from all different Buddhist communities get together in the same place.” Forbis says. Riera adds, “While we don’t want to do ‘Buddhism lite,’ we do want to make it accessible for people. Planting that seed is important to us. It may take root in different ways, and that’s fine.”

The full BuddhaFest schedule included eight films and seven talks. Among the highlights were the East Coast premiere of Crazy Wisdom, a film by Johanna Demetrakas about the life and times of the influential, ever-controversial Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and a surprise Skype appearance by Garchen Triptrul Rinpoche, following the premiere of Christina Lundberg’s documentary about him, For the Benefit of All Beings. The festival showcased a wide variety of other films, ranging from the non-Buddhist documentary I Am by Tom Shadyac (director of such Hollywood hits as Liar, Liar and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective), which investigates how, as individuals and as a society, we can improve our own lives and the lives of others, to Cave in the Snow, which follows Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s spiritual journey and explores her work supporting women in the Tibetan tradition who aspire to learn the teachings of the Buddha.

The most intimate moment of the festival came when Ruth King, a facilitator and consultant who is a lifetime student of indigenous wisdom, asked audience members to look into one another’s eyes and say things that would be awkward in most other settings, such as “I know you, you’re just like me,” and “I love you.”

“We’re sowing the seeds of compassion here in our nation’s capital,” Riera says. “Hopefully, this will inform the culture here and maybe affect some decision- making on some level at some point. All we can do is sow the seeds that are important to us.”

The theme of next year’s BuddhaFest will be mindfulness.

In addition to cosponsoring the event with IMCW, Tricycle hosted the online component. The first-ever Tricycle BuddhaFest Online Film Festival was a success, attracting over 1,700 Tricycle Community Members.

BuddhaFest 9/11 Event: A Weekend of Peace, Compassion, and Forgiveness
If you missed the film festival this year, you can still get in on some BuddhaFest action. In an effort to build “sacred space” and escape the inevitable media hype surrounding the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Riera and Forbis have organized “A Weekend of Peace, Compassion, and Forgiveness” for September 10 and 11 in Washington, D.C. The program will follow the BuddhaFest mix: films, talks, meditation, and possibly music.

“This weekend is inspired by the tragedy of September 11, but it’s not only about that,” Forbis says. “It’s the spark to get us talking about important things. We want to explore peace, forgiveness, and compassion in our own lives.”

Sam Mowe is Tricycle’s associate editor.

Image 1: Photograph by Sam Mowe
Images 2 & 3: © Danuta Otfinowski

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