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Buddhism in Barcelona: The First Buddhist Film Festival in Catalonia

Barcelona will host the First Buddhist Film Festival of Catalonia (FCBC) in October. As indicated by the name, this is the first time the Spanish cosmopolite hub has hosted a major Buddhist film gathering.

The initiative is being organized by the Catalan Coordinator of Buddhist Entities (CCEB), an association that brings together some 30 communities of diverse Buddhist traditions in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. The FCBC is a milestone pioneer of Buddhist initiatives in Spain, many of them being initiated by and receiving support from the Dharma-Gaia Foundation (DGF). The FCBC is the fine result of a collaboration between the CCEB and the Buddhist Film Foundation (BFF), the producer of the International Buddhist Film Festival (IBFF). Media support is given by the digital platform Buddhistdoor en Español (BDE).

Image courtesy of CCEB

The FCBC will feature mostly non-competitive screenings of films and documentaries. These are recently produced premieres for the general public, putting the spotlight on topics such as the climate crisis, education, social justice, and gender equality. The sessions will be accompanied by presentations, in person and online, by the film directors, as well as interviews and colloquiums. Screenings will take place from 19–23 October 2022 at Cines Verdi, located in the heart of the Gracia neighbourhood of Barcelona.

Montse Castellà Olivé, CCEB co-founder and vice-president, told BDE: “The FCBC was launched with a long-term goal of sustaining it as a biennial event.” She clarified: “It is not a festival created by Buddhists for Buddhists.” Instead: “What it seeks is to bring Buddhist values—most of which are universal—to the greatest number of people possible, through an attractive medium suitable for our times, such as cinema.”

The aim is to disseminate and discuss shared realities and human values, adds Castellà, such as: “The impermanence of all things, interdependence, the importance of educating on values and environmental care. In this respect, the FCBC wants to proactively limit its ecological footprint and, to this end, paper usage will be greatly minimised and, to the degree possible, only recyclable materials will be used. Likewise, the selection of films and documentaries on the program must be based on criteria that respect gender equality and the participation of women.”

The FCBC will begin with Greetings from Fukushima (Grüße aus Fukushima) by Doris Dörrie, a German director who will present the film in person. This film won the Confédération Internationale des Cinemas d’Art et d’Essai (CICAE) Award (Panorama) and the Heiner Carow Prize at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, and was nominated for the Panorama Audience Award (fiction film). It was a nominee (Film Award in Gold) at the 2016 German Film Awards, and winner (Audience Award) at the 2016 Mill Valley Film Festival.

Grüße aus Fukushima poster. Image courtesy of CCEB

Dörrie, in addition to being a scriptwriter, professor, opera director, and writer, is an honorary Barcelonan. She regularly visits Spain, whether to present the German Film Festival, as she did in Madrid in 2018, or to shoot scenes for her productions. In 2013, she shot the film The Whole Shebang (Alles inklusive) between the Costa del Sol municipality, the Nerja enclave, and Munich. In Greetings from Fukushima, Dörrie takes us to the Japanese region struck by an earthquake in 2011, revealing a unique friendship forged between a young German woman and an elderly former geisha.

Doris Dörrie. Image courtesy of CCEB

Is there such a thing as Buddhist cinema?

Is there a discernible category of Buddhist film? Gaetano Kazuo Maida, executive director of the BFF, a founding member of the magazine Tricycle, and director of the documentary Peace Is Every Step about the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, has no doubt that there is, stating:

“The Buddhist Film Foundation and its International Buddhist Film Festival were established in 2000 with the mission of presenting cinema with Buddhist subjects or Buddhist inspiration to the general public. As Buddhist filmmakers, educators, and film buffs, we were all very aware of many films that we thought highly of, but that did not attract mainstream audiences, even at festival settings. Our criteria for the films are: first, there must be a well-told and good story; second, there must be a Buddhist scene, character, or event at the heart of the film; or third, there must be a key Buddhist creator (director or scriptwriter) or involvement by a Buddhist.

“This last condition gives us some freedom for selecting films that may not always seem to fit into our festival. But in this context, they reveal a new meaning or resonance that may have gone unnoticed previously. That said, we are careful about not ‘seeing buddhas under every bed’ or claiming all types of films for inclusion. There is no benefit (for us or the films) to spread the meaning of ‘Buddhist.’ We have presented over 300 films from 22 countries to date and we have some 3,000 titles in our database, so yes, there is indeed Buddhist cinema!”

The DGF is committed to the success of this initiative because of its mission to protect, teach, and disseminate all aspects of Buddhist culture. Daniel Millet, founder of DGF and the editor of Buddhistdoor en Español, stated: “Film is a great way to spread Buddhism and may be the mirror that best reflects our society, the most suitable medium for our modern times. Film is the perfect medium to bring Buddhism to wider audiences because it assures that we can share teachings on its basic principles in an entertaining way, although it is no less profound than sermons for that reason. Buddhist films, like the sutras of yesteryear, contain stories that can help us to awaken. The teachings communicated can be applied in our daily lives. We see the Four Noble Truths reflected in films, as well as the harmful effects of the three poisons (ignorance, attachment, and aversion), the interconnection of all things, and the need for compassion and love on the path of happiness.”

Descending the Mountain poster. Image courtesy of CCEB

The FCBC’s operating budget is funded mainly by donations from the DGF, grants from public institutions such as Barcelona City Council, and the sale of tickets and contributions from CCEB members, as well as from institutions, companies, and private individuals. The FCBC is the first Buddhist film festival held in Spain and one of the first in any Spanish-speaking country. It is being held largely with volunteers, without whose help it would not be possible.

Like most film festivals, donor and contributor support is essential to achieving the FCBC’s viability and continuity. Any contribution, no matter how small, is always welcome (if you wish to make a contribution, you can do so by contacting the Catalan Coordinator of Buddhist Entities directly. You can also subscribe to the FCBC newsletter).

Kazuo Maida’s expectations for the FCBC are hopeful. He expressed confidence that the historic festival in Spain will offer audiences the chance to experience the diversity of contemporary Buddhist cultures through cinema: “We have witnessed how International Buddhist Film Festivals around the world have stimulated and encouraged attendees, and also local filmmakers, to seek a deeper commitment to Buddhist ideas and teachings. The cinema is a less intimidating space than a temple, a monastery, or a meditation center to begin exploring the Buddhist landscape. The fact that there is already a solid community of Buddhists from several different traditions in Barcelona and the surrounding area suggests that there is a marvelous base to nurture a growing interest in Buddhadharma there, as well as a brilliant future for the FCBC.”

Parallel activities

Finally, the First Buddhist Film Festival of Catalonia will also have a wide range of activities at various venues and organized by CCEB members. These include meditation sessions and workshops for children, film forums, conferences, talks, and open-door visits.

Image courtesy of CCEB

Catalan Coordinator of Buddhist Entities (CCEB)

This non-profit association was founded in 2007 to coordinate and create synergies between Buddhist organisations and centers in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands. Its vision is to present and represent Buddhism in Catalan society, which has been growing for 40 years. There are some 30 members of the CCEB, from different traditions, including: Zen, Tibetan, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.

Dharma-Gaia Foundation (DGF)

This non-profit private cultural foundation is committed to environmental, educational, and cultural transformation. It promotes, among other activities, academic courses, conferences, and exhibition seminars, video and documentary productions, and the publication and co-publication of books on Buddhism. It organizes academic courses and publications on Buddhism in collaboration with Rovira i Virgili University, contributes to the online journal Buddhistdoor en Español, and implements projects in Spain and Latin America.

Buddhist Film Foundation (BFF)

This foundation is the organiser of the International Buddhist Film Festival and is based in Oakland, California. Since 2003, it has held festivals in many parts of the world, including Amsterdam, Bangkok, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Singapore, and Washington DC. BFF organizers plan to bring this international festival to Barcelona.

See more

IBFF Programs First Buddhist Film Festival in Spain (Buddhist Film Foundation)
Buddhist Film Festival of Catalonia
Catalan Coordinator of Buddhist Entities
FCBC newsletter
Buddhist Film Foundation
Tricycle Magazine

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