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Sunday, June 24 at 10:30 p.m. My Reincarnation

(Rochester, NY) – The 25th anniversary season of POV (Point of View) is replete with films that offer remarkable and individual takes on stories of national and global significance, and Jennifer Fox’s My Reincarnation is no exception. It tells of the tireless work of exiled Tibetan Buddhist Master Namkhai Norbu to transmit the highest path of Tibetan Buddhism—called Dzogchen—around the world. Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche (“Rinpoche” is a Tibetan honorific title for Reincarnate Teachers meaning “precious one”) feels enormously responsibility for keeping an ancient spiritual and cultural tradition alive in the face of a 50-year long diaspora that threatens Tibetan identity. My Reincarnation opens POV’s 25th anniversary season on Sunday, June 24, 2012 at 10:30 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11).

But Fox’s film goes beyond reporting on the state of Tibetan Buddhism in exile. It enters Namkhai Norbu’s story in unprecedented fashion. Filmed over 20 years, My Reincarnation follows a long, gentle, sometimes amusing, yet intense struggle between him and his Italian-born son, Yeshi. Namkhai Norbu, along with the Tibetan Buddhist community, is convinced Yeshi is the reincarnation of his own master and destined to take up Namkhai Norbu’s work. Yeshi, however, was raised in Italy and feels and looks more like an up-and-coming young businessman than anybody’s spiritual master. Yet he can’t quite turn away from his father’s legacy. There are physical proofs of his reincarnation according to Buddhist tradition and his own spiritual yearnings. And there is the quiet, implacable determination of his father.

Fox began filming Namkhai Norbu in 1988 when, as a filmmaker and student of the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, she took a four-year sabbatical from filmmaking and worked as his secretary. She started out recording his everyday life, including his work, family and travels, intent on documenting a spiritual life to which she’d been given unusual access. She returned 13 years later, and periodically after that, until 2009, amassing more than 1,000 hours of footage from Italy and the family’s travels all over the world, including Venezuela, Russia and the United States (in Massachusetts and New York).

Using this footage plus archival material, My Reincarnation achieves a remarkably intimate and vivid account of Namkhai Norbu’s life and work. Fleeing Tibet in 1959 in the wake of the Chinese takeover, along with thousands of other Tibetans including the H.H. the Dalai Lama, he settled in Italy, married an Italian woman, Rosa, had two children and began the work that brought him worldwide recognition as a Spiritual Master and Scholar. The film shows 20 years of constant travel as he lectures, counsels, leads ritual Buddhist observances and Tibetan gatherings and hosts the Dalai Lama. He ages, of course, but also appears to take on an extra burdens—not only the hopes, fears and challenges of spiritual seekers and Tibetans scattered in foreign lands, but also the survival of Tibetan Buddhism itself.

Pictured: Chögyal Namkhai Norbu teaches while his son, Yeshi, looks on as Rinpoche gives teachings to thousands of local Kalmyks.
Credit: Courtesy of FILM (J. Fox DOP)

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