“Beautiful, soft, open – but not always interesting.” This is how California-based filmmaker Heather Kessinger describes current trends in American Buddhist filmmaking, which has unwittingly given rise to a form of “fatigue” or disenchantment with the overall package of presentation – and fatigue is always potentially harmful to any creative industry. This “Buddhist” fatigue is inevitable if one believes what she says about “done to death stereotypes” about Buddhism. A general definition of “stereotype” is that of a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. While I am not sure exactly what Buddhist stereotypes she refers to (personally, I can never get enough of panoramic shots of scenic Tibet and laughing young monks in comradely embrace), a clue may be found in her new movie: In the Shadow of Buddha, a film about Tibetan Buddhist nuns. While I doubt that the topic of Buddhist nuns has never been handled before (as Kessinger claims), a concerted effort to make a movie dedicated to their expression of themselves as disciples of the Buddha would certainly be a welcome addition to contemporary material about Buddhism.
Given the relative silence of real, living human women compared to their male counterparts in traditional Buddhist culture, Kessinger argues that a “melancholic irony” persists amongst those who have chosen to walk the path of enlightenment in the form of a female. The problem is so complex that anything associated with the topic seems to have something new or refreshing to say. After all, it is hard to stereotype something or someone that hasn’t even left an impression, be it negative or positive, on one’s consciousness.