There are a select few public figures alive in the world today that have transcended fame and entered the realm of living legend. It is difficult to separate person and myth when they have reached this level, and rare to get a glimpse into who they really are. The Dalai Lama is one such figure, someone who has been in the public spotlight for the majority of his life, a person who is seen as a holy symbol by his people and revered the world over for his courage and outspokenness against oppression. Yet, behind the public persona there is a man who few outside of his inner circle have seen. Filmmaker Josh Dugdale gained unprecedented access to His Holiness for a three-year period and was able to elucidate not only the Dalai Lama’s true political intentions, but also his humor, joy, pain, and humanity as well. The result is Sunday’s DOC-DEBUT premiere of The Unwinking Gaze.
Throughout his lifetime, the Dalai Lama has struck a tenuous balance between spiritual leader and political activist. It is an amazing feat for a person to be able to carry such gravitas spiritually while also being a savvy political operator and inspirational leader. And to think that this person was discovered as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in a far flung village at the age of two makes one wonder whether the Tibetan leaders who found him really did come upon the true reincarnation. One of the most intriguing mysteries surrounding this man is whether he has become the individual he is through teaching, meditation, and life experience, or whether divine lineage through past lives really do account for his extraordinary character.
Josh Dugdale’s film gets closer to this answer than any movie that has come before: there is no clear explanation beyond the Dalai Lama’s humility and humanity. Dugdale follows him from the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, India, to Canada, England, and the United States. The film shows the Dalai Lama as an oasis of composure in a sea of chaos. He is surrounded by Chinese misinformation techniques, radical Tibetans who are impatient at his approach, opportunistic Western politicians, and fiery emotions on all sides. Dugdale is able to get inside the calm eye of the storm and see what makes the Dalai Lama tick. His Holiness is indefatigable despite his frenzied calendar and advancing age. He remains patient in pursuit of a solution despite his people’s growing anxiety. He is aware of Western countries’ attempts to use him as a pawn in their power plays against increasing Chinese influence, and like a skilled chess player, strategically sees several moves ahead.
On his motivations for making The Unwinking Gaze, director Dugdale says, “I had seen a number of films on the Dalai Lama, but I felt they didn’t show who he really was. It seemed that he was being wheeled out for the cameras, for stage-managed set pieces.” This film strips away the veneer and gets at the man behind the curtain. It presents fair critiques from both sides, and the measured responses of the Dalai Lama. In an age of fiery political rhetoric and few admirable leaders, it is refreshing to see someone confront maddening politics with reason. It is even more refreshing to see the internal struggles that the Dalai Lama confronts, just like any other human being has to. Tune in this Sunday at 11pm EST/8pm PST and meet the real Dalai Lama for the first time.