q: And your own fascination? What attracted you to make this film about
someone called the Dalai Lama?
a: I think my association comes from being involved with religion a
great deal, especially when I was younger, and believing in the good nature of
man, there's the bad and there's the good, the negative and positive, and I
think in the movies I've made I've always sort of been skirting around, for
better or for worse, these issues, which is what makes up a human being? Are
we intrinsically evil, or are we intrinsically good, deep down? What is our
species, what are we about?
And I think religion to a certain extent, depending on the religion, depending
on how you approach the religion, gives you a sense of how to live one's life,
gives you a code of ethics, a moral code, and also how to live one's life in a
more spiritual way, and to try to understand, what is the spirit of a human
And so I've always been fascinated by people who are living a spiritual life,
or who try to live -- who really are the hard-liners, like someone who believes
totally in non-violence, compassion, kindness, and tolerance, which is
apparently, extremely revolutionary. It's extremely revolutionary. Jesus was
killed, Mohatma Ghandi was killed, Martin Luther King was killed, the Dalai
Lama is considered I don't know what in China. It's still probably the most
revolutionary idea I think, of all our existence, from the very moment we
became human beings. I think that's going to be the big change. One has to
ultimately go that way, because if you're not going to go that way, the other
way doesn't work. And so I was always interested in people living on that hard
line of living a life in the spirit, and in the case of the Dalai Lama,
q: When they see the film, what message is it you want people to take away
from the film?
a: I don't want the picture to have a message, let me put it that
way, if it does, maybe it'll be good that it has a message, but it may not be a
good work of art. That's something else. Whether it should be a good work of
art or not, I don't even know, whether it's a work of art. I just know that I
was kind of burning to make it. But I think one thing is-- the Dalai Lama is
an example. When the little boy tells him toward the end, his youngest brother
says, "I'll go to war," and he looks at the boy after all this is happening and
all that's going to happen, and he looks at the little boy, and he says "Dalai
Lama doesn't believe in war."
And I think that's what we have to think about. Look at the example here: he
didn't believe in war and the Chinese have taken Tibet. Well, I think the
Dalai Lama has recently said, when he was in America last, he said the
twentieth century was a century of violence, to the point of extinction,
almost. The next century has to be the century of dialogue. Of course they're
going to be there, of course people are going to start mixing, the world is
getting smaller. People have to start talking to know more about other
cultures and to understand each other. That's one thing. I think also that
you get this through the presence of the people portraying the parts in the
film. They have a centeredness to them that is very attractive, to live that
way. That doesn't mean they're not human beings, doesn't mean they don't get
angry at times, although in one or two cases when we asked some of the older
Tibetans in the picture to get angry, one of the older men said, "I'll try," he
said, "but I don't know how to get angry." So, it was revolutionary for me.
The other aspect of when they come out of the theater is to understand what's
happened, we're not there, we're not waving flags or anything. To understand
what's happened with Tibet, to understand what's happened in that part of the
world to this very special country which was based on non-violence. We even
infer in the film that it wasn't Shangri-La. There were political problems,
there was political corruption. It was like any nation being forced into the
twentieth century, only it happened to them in the forties, you see. In any
event, I want people to at least come out and understand that something
beautiful, if not in their political structure, than in their art, and their
philosophy, and in their culture, something beautiful has been wiped away.
Like the Mandrala at the end of the picture, it's been wiped away. It still
exists. If he hadn't left in 1959, we wouldn't be here talking about it. So
if the Dalai Lama hadn't left, didn't escape in 1959 -- it still exists. And
I was hoping that this film would bring this situation to the attention of the
average person who just wants to see a movie. Granted, it's not your average
movie. It's not the pace of the films that we are used to in America and in
certain parts of the Western world.
It's a special kind of picture, I think you got to get into it, you've got to
put yourself in that world and then go with it if you can. And it's just to
make you aware of something that is so special that it can't go unnoticed.
It's the old "Death of a Salesman," --"attention must be paid."
q: What impressed you most about that piece of history you're
a: I'm impressed by a culture ..they're at the top of the world, the
roof of the world, they don't go out, they go in, and that's something that in
the West I think we need more of, more centering in ourselves, in our lives.
Our world is so glutted with useless information, images, useless images,
sounds, all this sort of thing. It's a cacophony, it's like a madness I think
that's been happening in the past twenty-five years. And I think anything
that can help a person sit in a room alone and not worry about it is good.
I've been able to do it a little bit in the past five or six years, but even
then, I have to read something. If we just sit and exist, and understand that,
I think it will be helpful in a world that seems like a record that's going
faster and faster, we're spinning off the edge of the universe. Maybe this is
just something that's natural in the stream and the flow of history. That
civilizations just self-destruct, and in certain cases completely self-destruct
and disappear all together, and in other cases merge, and become other things.
I don't know. I find it fascinating that many of these people, I don't say all
of them, in Tibet, I don't know too much about the politics, and I know that
certain things weren't quite right, but that some were able to achieve a
certain peace of mind, and were able to fit themselves inside the universe
rather than fight the universe.
q: What sort of sympathy for the Dalai Lama's present situation do you
think the film will generate?
a: What could we hope would happen? That eventually the Chinese sit
down and talk with them? That'll be good. And eventually the Chinese would
maybe give more religious freedom in Tibet? You know because I'm fascinated by
them because in effect they're really in rebellion, but they're not terrorists,
the way it is in Northern Ireland or the Middle East, or Spain or many parts of
the world, and we just have to know about this. They're doing it, I believe
through a peaceful resistance, or at least trying to, I don't really know, I
know at least in Lhasa things are held pretty tightly. But for people to be
jailed, for people to be punished for carrying a picture of the Dalai Lama,
it's a little excessive. .... So we should know more about them, and hopefully,
maybe, ultimately, with enough of the Western world understanding the situation
in Tibet, maybe apply some pressure for our governments to be peace makers.
Peace makers. Have two people sit down at a table and start talking if takes
ten years. Something good has got to happen.
q: What makes the Dalai Lamaa such a popular figure in the West?
a: I think there's a great admiration for how he's handled the
situation. He's not advocating violence, he's dealing with it in a nonviolent
way, in a persistent non-violent way, going about it every place, every part of
the world, traveling around and talking about it, making people aware of it.
Also, there's something about the way he looks at life, and maybe it has to do
with, obviously his religion and that sort of thing, Buddhism, and that is
fitting inside the rhythm of the universe rather than trying to fight against
it. Even during the ten years with China from 1949 - 1959, he tried to
understand about Chairman Mao, to fit in and deal with it, not to constantly
kick and scream and fight against it. I mean what could he do? China's a
couple billion people, Mao is Mao, tough man, he knew what he wanted and he's
going to get it, you've got deal with him. And so I see it that way, but as a
young boy, don't forget he was sixteen or seventeen years old when he was
enthroned, as a young boy too he understood that the country had to come into
the twentieth century. And I think all this is done through persistence, a
gentleness, a tenderness, a compassion that he shows.