J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Margaret Mead ’17: Chomo (short)

Since the Dalai Lama and the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism were forced into exile, they have spread their wisdom and faith much wider around the world than would have otherwise been possible. It has also been a two-way exchange. In recent years, educational opportunities have expanded tremendously for Tibetan Buddhist nuns, at least for those living outside Tibet. The first class of nuns are poised to take the Geshema degrees following the requisite seventeen years of study. This is an especially significant milestone for a young nun contemplating her future in Maayan Arad’s short documentary Chomo (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Lobsang Chomo (“nun” in her local dialect) made the arduous journey to Dharamshala expressly so she would have educational opportunities that are not available in her native Tibet, where the Communist government insists it has the right to set policies for the religious faith. When we meet her, she has been studying in earnest for several years and has been recognized as one of her nunnery’s top doctrinal debaters. She is on track to sit for her Geshema exam (in a mere fourteen or fifteen years), but she will take time out to visit her family, now residing in a distant Northern India village, to reflect on her life choices so far.

The forty-two-minute Chomo is packed wall-to-wall with stunning visuals, but it is the charismatic Chomo who truly lights up the film. Even with her clean-shaven head, she is a stunning presence, but her wisdom and sense of humor are what really make her beautiful. Arad just quietly observes the daily goings-on at the nunnery and follows Chomo as she journeys through the wildly cinematic mountain passes on her way home. Yet, this film never feels hushed and airless like some In Great Silence-style documentaries. Instead, viewers always have the sense that a whole lot of life is happening.

We always knew Tibetan Buddhism offered more wisdom than its CP oppressors, but here is proof it is also more progressive. There might not be full parity yet, but some significant glass ceilings have been broken, quietly and philosophically. On a less optimistic note, the film also reminds us in passing of the arrest and conviction (on mystery charges) of Lobsang Jamyang, a Tibetan monk who wrote tracts advocating freedom of expression under the name Lomik. Nevertheless, Chomo is a positive, refreshingly life-affirming film. Very highly recommended, Chomo screens this Saturday (10/21) with Pixelating Holiness, as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.

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