Promotional poster for the IBFF in Vancouver, 2013. From the BFF Facebook Page Since its creation in 2000, the Buddhist Film Foundation (BFF) has been a cornerstone for Buddhist-themed cinema. The foundation strives to uphold Buddhism in film, and archive and promote new and upcoming releases to the best of its capacity. From documentaries, features, and experimental work to children’s films and television programs (BFF website), the BFF prides itself on being a worldwide resource for film inspired by Buddhism.
Based in Berkeley, California, the BFF was originally set up by authors, activists, film-makers, and of course, Buddhist scholars. Their achievement in creating such an organization is evident, even after all these years, in the multi-talented Board of Directors, who have continually expanded the BFF since its inauguration. As well as being a comprehensive archive, the BFF encompasses the International Buddhist Film Festival (IBFF), partnerships with various museums and universities, and even a DVD distribution service named Festival Media, run in North America.
A peek at their homepage, and one can immediately see an exciting range of Buddhist-inspired films and work waiting to be discovered! The BFF notifies us about the film The American Rimpoche, Tibetan Buddhist teacher Gelek Rimpoche, a short film series by Edward Burger on Buddhist life in contemporary China . . . and offers many more updates on the Buddhist film world.
Their IBFF is a diverse event spanning popular to avant-garde cinema, with locations scattered across the globe. From London in 2009 to Hong Kong in 2012, the IBFF gives a taste of Buddhist film-making to various cultures worldwide. A list of the films shown at Hong Kong’s festival can be found here. Last year’s festival was held in Vancouver, and BFF’s website reveals that this year, an International Buddhist Film Festival Tour will be taking place. Touching base on either side of the Pacific, this tour plans to wow audiences in some ten cities. With open call ending only on 15 August, the final count is yet to be decided. On their main website, IBFF executive director Gaetano Maida expresses his excitement over the multi-city tour: “This coming season, our twelfth, is an opportunity to further expand the audience for these excellent films and introduce local filmmakers around the Pacific to new audiences and fellow filmmakers,” he explains.
Hana Baba from KALW Radio News had the chance to speak with Maida on a radio program in 2010. The Buddhist Channel transcribed the interview, in which Maida explains the foundation’s history and goals, as well as how they go about keeping Buddhism-inspired films alive. Maida told Hana Baba, You know, I'm not interested in making more Buddhists. I'm interested in making more compassion. BFF’s commitment to preserving such films is commendable, and their yearly festivals show that they intend to continue.
Common interest brings together various organizations, and the BFF has gained the interest of prominent institutions as well. The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation is known for supporting innovative Buddhist ideas, and the IBFF is certainly a worthy cause. In 2012, London was able to host another IBFF event, but this time with the sponsorship of the Ho Foundation in partnership with the Buddhist Art Forum at The Courtauld Institute of Art. The Ho Foundation also helped fund Hong Kong’s IBFF in 2012. The latter spotlighted 13 films, seven of which were premiering in Asia.
Khyentse Norbu’s The Cup, featured in an article on the Buddhistdoor International website, also makes an appearance on the BFF’s website for films with a Buddhist influence. Others are Mickey Lemle’s Compassion in Exile and Doris Dörrie’s Enlightenment Guaranteed.
With mainstream media taken over by oh-so-common chick-flicks, CGI-packed thrillers, aliens-invading-only-America (to be fair, Hong Kong has had a giant robot spell lately) . . . it is rejuvenating to come across movies that delve deeper into the spiritual world and psyche. The BFF has introduced us to fresh films with mindful direction and unique stories, providing a platform for films that do not receive mainstream attention or funding. Through BFF promotion such exceptional films can be kept from going under, to the delight of those who enjoy an avant-garde flick, or two.