The Los Angeles County Museum of Art this week will hold the first International Buddhist Film Festival, to coincide with the museum's exhibit on Buddhist art, "The Circle of Time: Buddhist Meditational Art."
The film festival, which begins Thursday, features nine movies with Buddhist themes or locations or that were made by Buddhists. It was sparked by growing interest in Buddhism among Americans and the growth of Buddhist-themed cinema around the world, said Gaetano Maida, executive director of the festival.
Los Angeles was a natural place to premiere the festival, he said, given that the county has the largest community of Asian immigrant Buddhists in America; the largest Zen monastery in the U.S., Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights where Al Gore got in trouble for fund-raising with monks; and a Hollywood contingent, led by Richard Gere and Steven Seagal, who have claimed Buddhism as a way to cope with life's (and show business') everyday stress, Maida said.
"There is a flowering of Buddhism in America, and there is an outburst of cinema all over the world that addresses Buddhism issues," Maida said. "We are interested in reaching new audiences.... [Buddhism] is tapping into the great chaos that we feel today."
The festival opens with Khyentse Norbu's "Travellers & Magicians." The film, Norbu's follow-up to the 1999 film "The Cup," was made in Bhutan.
On Sunday, Werner Herzog's documentary "Wheel of Time" will debut.
The film follows the Dalai Lama on a pilgrimage to Tibet's Mt. Kailash -- a place Buddhists view as "the axis of the universe."
The festival will also feature a documentary, "Home Street Home," on Bernie Glassman, a Jewish New Yorker who became a Zen priest. Glassman has taken his Zen students to live on New York's streets to get a sense of what it is like to be homeless.
For ticket information call (323) 857-6288.
-- Lorenza Munoz