royals crafted humanitarian images for themselves simply by attending a few
charitable cocktail parties and looking good in Versace. Her Royal Highness
Princess Ashi Kesang Choden T. Wangchuck of Bhutan is different. The scholar
and devout Buddhist practitioner works directly with monks and art restoration
experts preserving her nation’s heritage as the executive director of the
Thangke Conservation Center. It is a real job she is well qualified for, but it
does not leave her any time for preening PR campaigns. Fortunately, the efforts
of the Princess and her colleague and teacher, Ephraim “Eddie” Jose are
documented in Tobias Reeuwijk’s 1000
Hands of the Guru (trailer
which screens during the 2016 Asian American International Film Festival in New
past centuries, thangkas were essentially portable altars. They are sacred, but
they are intended to be used rather than filed away. Over time, they absorb
wisdom and holiness as the focus of meditation and rituals. They can never be
disposed of like common detritus, but they become faded and threadbare. With
the support of Bhutan’s royal family, Jose developed a systematized restoration
regimen. At first, the monks did not get it, but the results were a revelation.
her royal status, the Princess Ashi Kesang was also western educated and
tutored in Buddhist teachings by some of Bhutan’s most revered monks, making
her a perfect choice to lead the Center. Frankly, she and the charismatic Jose should
be a publicist’s dream, but the Buddhist nation is apparently a bit outside People Magazine’s beat.
fact, the thoughtful and camera-friendly duo directly elevate the
straightforward documentary. Despite capturing some striking images, Reeuwijk’s
approach is largely reportorial, with maybe a pinch of advocacy thrown in.
However, Princess Ashi Kesang’s narration lucidly (and compellingly) explains
the higher spiritual principles informing the Center’s work. She might even
help viewers prepare for death.
It is just nice to know the Thangke Conservation
Center exists in our world—albeit in a distant corner. Reeuwijk addresses the
pressures of globalization and modernization that challenge Bhutan’s traditional
way of life, but there still seems be a considerable place for contemplation
and faith in the Himalayan nation. Smart and sensitive to its subjects and
surroundings, the sixty-five minute 1000
Hands of the Guru is educational in a relaxed, easy-going way. Highly
recommended for those who care about the preservation of art and culture, it
screens this Friday (7/22) at the Village East, as part of this year’s AAIFF.
Labels: AAIFF '16, Documentary, Princess Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck, Thangka painting