By Tench Phillips
Why do we humans care so much for certain living creatures and not so much for others? Obviously, we care most about our closely related flesh and blood, followed by the ethnic groups we were born into. Our identification expands out to include our schools, churches, teams, political parties, and our nation state. We receive years of education from an early age by our parents and schools to conform us to our greater culture. Most of us learn our lessons well.
But there’s a dark side of our enculturation. We may grow up to fear and invalidate “the other.” Whether our manufactured enemies are opposing parties, religions, races, classes, or nation creeds – we believe the stories we tell ourselves. Our prejudice goes beyond people and includes other species. There are certain animals that receive our care and empathy. And there are the unlucky ones – those that are factory farmed and consumed on our plates.
Our prejudices and fears are often exploited by politicians, the media, and business. The rise of right-wing nationalistic groups in the U.S. and Europe have been emboldened by Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric. Populist candidates who have exploited ethnic nationalism have won recent victories in Poland, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. Borders are being militarized and closed off to refugees, turning them back with nowhere to go.
There are lasting consequences for all the wars instigated by the developed world in the pursuit of world dominance, oil reserves, and mineral rights – all in the name of ‘The War on Terror’. Religious and sectarian conflicts have been exploited and escalated by the western powers throughout the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and Asia. As a result, there are now 65 million impoverished and displaced peoples in the world – more than at any time since the Second World War – seeking asylum in countries where they are not wanted.
Our Wednesday night New Non-Fiction Film series will feature two new documentaries that explore these topics. “Human Flow” by filmmaker and renowned artist activist Ai Weiwei shows on Wed, Dec 13 and “The Last Dalai Lama?” shows on Wed, Dec 20. What is the connection between the very different kinds of activism practiced by The Dalai Lama and Mr. Ai? They are both political dissidents who fled the Chinese government during separate political eras. They have each become the voice for millions of refugees whose plight remains invisible in the eyes of the industrialized world. They are re-teaching the ethical values that have been compromised in the west by our liberal institutions, big business, and houses of worship.
The current Dalai Lama was born into a humble peasant family in Tibet in 1935. After the death of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, he was chosen and recognized as the reincarnate in the long lineage when he was two years of age. He was brought to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and received his immersion into the Buddhist teachings.
The Chinese government invaded Tibet in 1950 and systematically dismantled Tibetan culture and religion in their effort to gain territory and modernize the feudal, patriarchal society. The Dalai Lama was able to flee persecution and left Tibet in 1959 during The Tibetan Revolution along with thousands of Buddhist monks. He made a dangerous journey walking only at night over the Himalayan mountain ranges to seek freedom in India. There he founded the Buddhist community of Dharamsala, the adopted home of 80,000 Tibetan refugees.
In the decades since, The Dalai Lama, referred to as His Holiness, has patiently advocated for the autonomy of the Tibetan people. He has established a worldwide reputation for religious collaboration, nonviolence, and for an understanding between Buddhism and western science. Many secular atheists and non-theists, as well as those who believe in a natural theology, have been drawn to the inclusiveness and rationality of eastern religious practices.
But the Chinese government has a different agenda. The ruling elite have fabricated a parallel Buddhist lineage who have claimed the right to choose the next Dalai Lama. This unprecedented intrusion into religious tradition has prompted the Tibetan exile community and the current incarnate to assert that he may in fact be the last Dalai Lama, concluding the lineage in an effort to forestall China’s interference.
The Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has been a political dissident for much of his life. As the son of the renowned poet Ai Qing, he spent much of his childhood living with his family in a labor camp and living in exile in a remote area of China. As a young adult, he traveled to the U.S. and lived first on the West Coast before making New York City his home during the eighties and nineties. During this time, he studied the art of conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol and struck up a friendship with beat poet Allen Ginsberg.
When his father became ill, Mr. Ai returned to China in 1993, bringing with him new ideas from western culture. There he created the experimental artists collective, Beijing East Village. His art soon became more politicized and he ran into trouble with the party elites when he created a growing presence online as an artist and a dissident. His studio was destroyed and in 2011 he was arrested and tortured by the government and spent four years under house arrest. When he was finally given back his passport to travel, he made his way back to Europe.
Since relocating to Berlin two years ago as the Einstein visiting professor at Berlin University of the Arts, Mr. Ai has worked on his new film ‘Human Flow’. He began the project when he encountered refugees escaping from Syria while on vacation with his family on the Greek island of Lesbos. He plunged into the refugee issue and after raising adequate funding for the film, he traveled to 23 countries to document the humanitarian crisis from the Middle East to Europe, and all the way to Myanmar.
It wasn’t that long ago during the nineties that Wall Street globalists and neoliberalists were selling us a narrative about a world with permeable borders between countries, exemplified by the European Union. While the business elites are still calling for the free flow of corporate capital between borders in the quest for the cheapest labor and the least regulation – the movement of laborers across borders in search of jobs has been made illegal and all but shut down.
During the same week as the recent premiere of his film “Human Flow” in New York City, Mr. Ai unveiled his massive street art project throughout that city. “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” is the ironic title of his installation of more than 300 outdoor sites of artworks and sculptures dispersed throughout the city. They include lamppost banners depicting photo portraits of refugees, along with barricades and fences of varying materials integrated into bus stops and buildings. Large sculptures have been erected in iconic locations – in Central Park, Cooper Union, Washington Square Park under the marble arch, and a circular wall around the World’s Fair Unisphere in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Mr. Ai’s art project will be on view throughout New York City thru February 11.
When asked to give his views on social economics, The Dali Lama explains that he is a Marxist in the ideal sense of communism. This ideal was expressed by Karl Marx as “From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” Now 82 years of age, The Dalai Lama tirelessly travels the world exposing the inequities and injustices of government and business. He views the wars that are being waged by military powers, the corruption within centralized governments, and the corporate exploitation of nature – all as the result of global finance capitalism.
A main difference in the Chinese and American societies is the planning and regulation of financial markets and industry by the Chinese government. Although the Chinese model of a central ruling party committee is not democratic, it has proven advantageous for the urgent shift away from fossil fuels to renewable green power. In contrast, the American quasi-democracy model has become the poster-child for dysfunctional government. The U.S. has become a corporate controlled government no longer capable of legislating the policies necessary for a sustainable planet.
There is much irony to be found in the transformation of Mao’s communist vision for a rural China that has now transformed into a capitalist industrial economy entangled within other world economies. The U.S. and Chinese societies are growing ever more alike. The national security states of both countries are massive in size and both are unaccountable to their citizens. As the rights guaranteed under the American Constitution for freedom of speech and the protections offered by the judicial system continue to erode in this country, we become less of a free people and a free society.
The activism practiced by both Ai Weiwei and The Dalai Lama has become singularly important to the peoples of the West as well as to the Chinese. As true citizens of the world, they exemplify the human dimension for compassion that is woefully amiss within the lives of the leaders of the institutions of competing world empires. Their notoriety and activism have gained them the attention of the establishment and the media, and the respect of peoples all over the world.
Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
DECONSTRUCTING THE BEATLES
We are bringing back the entertaining and educational four-part lecture series by composer and music producer Scott Freiman who critiques the creation and recording of each of four iconic Beatles albums. Each part screens only once in a Saturday matinee showing.
Rubber Soul shows Sat, Nov 11.
Revolver shows Sat, Nov 18.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band shows Sat, Dec 2.
The White Album shows Sat, Dec 16.
On 27th July 1890 a gaunt figure stumbled down a drowsy high street at twilight in the small French country town of Auvers. The man was carrying nothing; his hands clasped to a fresh bullet wound leaking blood from his belly. This was Vincent van Gogh, then a little-known artist; now the most famous artist in the world. His tragic death has long been known, what has remained a mystery is how and why he came to be shot. Loving Vincent tells that story using over 65,000 painted animated frames created by dozens of artists. Shows Tues, Nov 14 and Nov 17 thru 21.
A beloved technology, the typewriter, faces imminent extinction. Cultural historians, collectors and various celebrity obsessives weigh in – including Tom Hanks, John Mayer, David McCullough, and the late playwright Sam Shepard – celebrate the typewriter’s means of summoning the creative spirit. The title of the film comes from the name of one of the last standing repair shops in America dedicated to keeping the aging machines clicking. Shows Wed, Nov 15.
Adapted by director Gabriel Axel from Isak Dinesen’s short novel, this evocative fable has become a perennial Naro favorite around Thanksgiving. The beautiful but pious sisters Martine and Philippa grow to spinsterhood under the wrathful eye of their strict pastor father on the forbidding and desolate coast of Denmark, until one day, Philippa’s former suitor sends a Parisian refugee named Babette (Stéphane Audran) to serve as the family cook. Shows Tuesday, Nov 21. ’Faith In Film’ is hosted by Scott Hennessy, a cinema buff and the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
This is the unlikely story of how a pretty, young British girl went to the Gombe forest of Tanzania to study chimpanzees in 1960 and grew to become the world renown primatologist Jane Goodall. Her groundbreaking research was documented in the sixties by National Geographic cinematographer Hugo van Lawick, who would become Jane’s husband. Previously thought to be lost forever, the footage was only recently rediscovered and edited along with Jane’s narration. With an enchanting musical score by Phillip Glass, the film is an immersive look into how one woman has changed the world through tireless global education and activism on behalf of wildlife conservation. Shows Wed, Dec 6 with speakers and discussion.
Over 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change and war in the greatest human displacement since World War II. Produced and directed by the renowned Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, this is an epic journey to record the plight of refugees over the course of an eventful year traveling to 23 countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, France, Greece, Germany, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, and Turkey. The film elucidates both the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact. Shows Wed, Dec 13.
THE LAST DALAI LAMA?
Tibetan Buddhist psychology teaches techniques for overcoming negative, afflictive emotions, such as anger, greed, jealousy, sloth and ignorance. In this new documentary, His Holiness explains that Tibetan Buddhism is both a religion and a “science of the mind”. He shares his understanding of the nature of mind, and its part in the creation and alleviation of all of our suffering. As he now turns 82, and must deal with the questions of aging and death, and whether he will reincarnate as The Dalai Lama, or if he will be the last of the lineage that has existed for a millennium. Shows Wed, Dec 20 with Tibetan Buddhist scholar and ODU professor Nicole Willock.
FlickIt! Fridays presents John Waters’ outrageous satire of suburban life—and the American fame industry—with a hilarious black comedy starring Kathleen Turner as a seemingly perfect homemaker who will stop at nothing to rid the neighborhood of anyone failing to live up to her moral code. Shows Friday, Nov 17.
Naro-Minded and Push Comedy Theater present the “Citizen Kane’ of bad movies. Filmmaker Tommy Wiseau plays a successful banker who lives happily in a San Francisco townhouse with his gorgeous fiancée until one day she decides to seduce his best friend. The making of The Room has recently been dramatized by James Franco in his new film The Disaster Artist. Shows Saturday, Nov 18.
FlickIt! Fridays presents an outrageous fantasy directed by Monty Python member Terry Gilliam. A young boy joins a group of renegade dwarves on an unpredictable journey through the fabric of time to visit Napoleon (Ian Holm), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and a powerful King Agamemnon (Sean Connery) before the Supreme Being catches up with them. Shows Friday, Dec 15.