A traditional Tibetan tale on the big screen

Jenn Fields, For the Boulder Daily Camera

People are sometimes tempted by revenge. The temptation can be so great that it persuaded one mother to send her boy to sorcery school so he could punish his greedy aunt and uncle by conjuring an epic storm that flattened their village.

That’s how the title character in “Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint” learns that revenge isn’t an answer and becomes one of the great sages of Tibetan Buddhism.

Although the film tells a story from 11th century Tibet, its director, Neten Chokling Rinpoche, said the tale of revenge is universal and timeless. Milarepa’s reversal from murderer to monk can give anyone hope.

“Milarepa is a really normal guy — nothing special,” Chokling said. “If he can do it, anybody can do it.”

Though born in Bhutan, Chokling, 33, grew up in a Buddhist monastery in the tiny village of Bir, India. There was one black-and-white television in Bir by the time he was a teenager. When the film “Little Buddha,” starring Keanu Reeves, was being filmed back in Bhutan, he went to see the shooting.

“I thought it was interesting, but I never thought I would do it,” he said.

Prior to “Milarepa,” Chokling had experience on two other movies. First, he played one of the main characters in “The Cup,” a film about a group of monks who go to great lengths to see the soccer World Cup. He also worked behind the scenes on “Travelers and Magicians.” Both films were directed by another Buddhist lama, Kyentse Norbu. “Milarepa” follows Norbu’s style of film making — many of the actors and crew are monks with little or no movie experience.

But Chokling had some help that many Westerners would consider unorthodox. Any time a tough decision or problem arose, he would call for a mo, a Tibetan form of divination. The mo said they should start filming in September, so they did, despite the fact that September was a few months away and Chokling didn’t have a screenplay. The mo also helped them decide what to do with sand-damaged cameras and when to end filming to avoid being stuck in the Himalayas through the spring thaw.Making and distributing a film independently are a community effort, said Gretchen Holland, of Boulder. As a member of Mangala Shri Bhuti, a Tibetan Buddhist organization with a center outside of Ward, Holland was one of many local volunteers who helped promote and organize the sold-out Boulder screening of “Milarepa” on Sept. 19.

Chokling has a close relationship with Mangala Shri’s director, so the movie has become a labor of love for many in the organization.

“It’s not just for yourself,” she said. “It’s for others.”

Some of the proceeds from the movie will go to Chokling’s monastery in India, which recently took in more than 40 orphans, said Sasha Meyerowitz, associate producer and a member of Mangala Shri Bhuti. In fact, he said, one of the benefits of self-distribution is that more of the money can go to charity.

Story online at www.dailycamera.com