Buddhist Arts and Film Festival returns to the Dairy for a weekend of cinema and spirituality (2024)

It’s common knowledge that the good people of Boulder love a quality film festival.

From the prolific Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema to the award-winning Boulder International Film Festival, to the more niche Chautauqua Silent Film Series, there’s always something for cinephiles to get into when visiting the city.

There’s also no denying that Boulderites love their Buddha. Boulder is home to one of the few Buddhist-affiliated Universities in the U.S., Naropa, has hosted His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama on several occasions and even has its own Buddhist publishing company.

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Next weekend, one film festival will combine cinema and spirituality at the third-annual Buddhists Arts and Film Festival, kicking off on May 24 at the Dairy Arts Center. Whether you’re a film buff, a follower of the four noble truths, both, or even neither, the three-day event will feature everything from documentary screenings to poetry workshops to discussions on mortality — offering a little something for everyone.

The Buddhists Arts and Film Festival was founded by Laura Weiss, a filmmaker, activist, and Buddhist, who, before launching the festival, spent several years as a psychiatric nurse before transitioning to hospice nursing. According to Weiss, having a healthcare career helped sprout her curiosity and interest in Buddhism.

“During my time as a nurse, I started getting curious about the mind, relationships, behaviors, and consequences. My whole nursing background revolved around this sense of working with one’s thoughts, and that guided me toward Buddhism,” Weiss said.

Weiss said she was inspired to launch the Buddhist Arts and Film Festival after losing her mother to Alzheimer’s.

“The morning after she passed away, I was in this space of love, grief, loss, confusion, and clarity — all of the things that come with losing your mother. I wanted to think of a way to honor her and dedicate something to her and the idea for the festival came to me. I had some background in film, and with my background in Buddhism, I saw an opportunity to create something like this in Boulder, because there are a lot of people here who are interested in both.”

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After a four-year hiatus during the pandemic, the festival bounced back in 2022; And after another short break in 2023, the festival returns this year stronger than ever, with seven movies, two workshops, live music performances, as well as four post-film screening discussions facilitated by leaders in Buddhist thought, eastern musical theory and spiritual enlightenment.

Hosting one of the post-screening talkbacks is University of Colorado’s Dan Hirshberg, an instructor at the Center for Asian Studies and the Tibet Himalaya Initiative. Hirshberg will help facilitate a conversation following the movie “Tukdam: Between Worlds,” a groundbreaking documentary that explores the Tibetan Buddhist practice of “tukdam” in which advanced meditators consciously control their dying process. Even after being pronounced clinically dead by American scientific standards, the bodies of these meditators stay lifelike and, erm, “fresh” – which is, on one hand, a little spooky, but on the other, totally cool.

“I think this film in particular will raise a lot of questions about the intersection of these traditional meditation practices, their objectives, and their potential goals, and the ways in which we as human beings might experience and understand them within a modern context which is, today, dominated by scientific research and inquiry,” said Hirshberg.

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Hirshberg will be interviewing Andrew Holecek, a leading expert in Buddhist meditation who specializes in lucid dreaming and thanatology — the study of dying. With Hirshberg’s background as an academic, and Holecek’s knowledge of Eastern meditation practices, audiences will have the unique opportunity to discuss something that isn’t always talked about in modern society.

“Whether you practice Buddhism or not, ‘Tukdam: Between Worlds,’ is objectively a fascinating story. Andrew in particular has written a lot about these types of practices as a methodology, and so I think it will be interesting to hear what he has to say about death and dying,” he said.

He continued, “This is a good way to create dialogue about the way we look at death. Death and dying in the West is so embroiled in modern medicine, and instead of focusing on having a good death, the focus is keeping us alive at all costs, for as long as possible, no matter what we end up like. But this film offers us a different view and different approach, and is really about how to make the transition as gracefully as possible.”

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The festival will open on Friday with a performance from special guest Venerable Pannavati Bhikkhuni, a former Baptist pastor turned Buddhist monk who currently runs a hermitage in North Carolina housing more than 70 homeless youth. Her performance alongside the Dharma Voci choir will take audiences through an uplifting program of pop and gospel-inspired songs. The performance will be followed by a screening of “Dark Red Forest,” a documentary detailing the annual pilgrimage of thousands of Tibetan nuns as they travel to stay in wooden houses on the Tibetan Plateau during the coldest months of the year.

Other films that will be screened at the festival include “Buster Williams: Bass to Infinity,” a documentary about legendary jazz bassist (and Buddhist) Buster Williams, as well as “Honeygiver Among the Dogs,” a Buddhist noir that follows the story of an undercover detective who searches for a missing nun.

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While watching a movie can be fun and all, for those who like to get involved with a more hands-on approach, two workshops over the weekend will help immerse attendees into Eastern culture and movement. This includes a workshop led by dancer Santi, in which participants will have the opportunity to explore freedom with improvisation-based movement practices as well as a writing workshop led by poet Brooke McNamara.

McNamara, who is also a teacher and a zen Buddhist, will lead her workshop “Awakening to the Poetic: Meditation & Poetry for Coming Alive” on Sunday, offering a fun way for guests to tap into their creative sides while exploring mindfulness.

According to McNamara, the workshop provides a supportive space for participants to relax, whether they are beginners in poetry, meditation, or both, as well as for seasoned writers who are looking for a way to deepen their practice.

“My biggest goal from my teachings, and biggest joy in life, is to help people uncover their truth. And through writing and poetry, I believe that that truth can be uncovered.”

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The workshop will begin with a 20-minute meditation to help ground the group, where thereafter McNamara will share some of her poems and offer writing prompts to participants. After a period of writing time, the group will be invited to share and discuss their work or their practice. Despite having a degree in poetry, her approach to the workshop is not academic; Rather, she addresses the group from the heart and encourages others to be open as well.

“I believe 150% that zen or liberation or wisdom practices are for everybody. Same with poetry, creativity and writing. It’s all innate to being human, and there is an innate seed of wakefulness in every human. We are, by our very nature, creative beings, given that we are alive and exist in time, we are being creative all the time whether or not we know it. I’ve made it a core value to teach within those identities, to those who follow Buddhism, and to those who do not,” said McNamara.

Weiss echoes McNamara’s sentiment, explaining though the Buddhist Arts and Film Festival is rooted in spiritual teachings, the festival is for everyone and anyone who wants to expand their worldview.

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“Our life is shaped by our mind. And I feel like the more we can pay attention to that and be aware of that, the less conflicted we can be. The principles of Buddhism — compassion, patience, generosity — are open to everyone, whether or not they practice. Everyone can benefit from these things, and getting to know your mind isn’t necessarily a religious thing, it’s a way of being. For anyone to be curious about how to go through life with more awareness is a good thing. Hopefully, this festival can introduce people to — or reacquaint them with — a way of working with their minds and their thoughts and emotions in a gentle, fun, evocative kind of way.”

If you go

What: Buddhist Arts and Film Festival

When: May 24 – 26, 2024

Where: Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder

Cost: $65 for an all-access pass

More info: baff.film

Buddhist Arts and Film Festival returns to the Dairy for a weekend of cinema and spirituality (2024)


What is the name of the festival of Buddhism? ›

Here are some of the major Buddhist festivals celebrated in India:
Vesak - Buddha Day/Buddha Purnima23 May 2024Thursday
Asala - Dharma Day21 July 2024Sunday
Obon13 August 2024Tuesday
Bodhi Day8 December 2024Sunday
5 more rows

What are the two festivals in Buddhism? ›

There are two main festivals in the Buddhist calendar. These are Wesak and Parinirvana Day. In addition, Buddhists may also take part in retreats, which allow for spiritual development.

Why is the Buddhism Festival celebrated? ›

Traditionally, Buddha's Birthday is known as Vesak or Visakah Puja (Buddha's Birthday Celebrations). Vesak is the major Buddhist festival of the year as it celebrates the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha on the one day, the first full moon day in May, except in a leap year when the festival is held in June.

What is the Buddhist festival Kathina? ›

Kathina is an important celebration in the Buddhist calendar. This festival celebrates the Buddhist community joining together to present the monks in their monastery with new robes.

What are the three 3 main festivals in Buddhism? ›

Buddhist Celebrations
  • Magha Puja Day and Sangha Day. This celebration usually occurs on the day of full moon in March. ...
  • Buddhist New Year. For three days after the first full moon of April, Buddhists celebrate New Year's Day in certain countries. ...
  • Wesak. ...
  • Dharma Day. ...
  • Parinirvana Day. ...
  • Kathina.

Do Buddhists believe in God? ›

Buddhists do not believe in any kind of deity or god, although there are supernatural figures who can help or hinder people on the path towards enlightenment. Born on the Nepali side of the present day Nepal-India border, Siddhartha Gautama was a prince around the fifth century B.C.E.

What are the two major Buddhist traditions? ›

The two main traditions are Theravada and Mahayana. Both share the common basic teachings of Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path.

What are five major rituals in Buddhism? ›

Rituals and Practices
  • Devotion. Devotion or veneration towards buddhas, bodhisattvas, Buddhist teachings or sacred objects (such as relics) is a common practice among Mahāyāna Buddhists. ...
  • Bowing. The act of bowing (or prostrating) is common throughout Buddhism. ...
  • Chanting. ...
  • Life Cycle Rites. ...
  • Protective Rites. ...
  • Pilgrimage.
Jan 1, 2022

Can Buddhists eat meat? ›

Some Buddhists avoid meat consumption because of the first precept in Buddhism: "I undertake the precept to refrain from taking life". Other Buddhists disagree with this conclusion. Many Buddhist vegetarians also oppose meat-eating based on scriptural injunctions against flesh-eating recorded in Mahayana sutras.

What food do Buddhists eat? ›

There are not set dietary laws in Buddhism, customs vary with region. Vegetarian is common due to the principle of nonviolence and the avoidance of suffering. Theravada and Mahayana: often do not eat meat and fish, some are vegan.

What are the three main beliefs of Buddhism? ›

Three Universal Truths
  • Everything in life is impermanent and always changing.
  • Because nothing is permanent, a life based on possessing things or persons doesn't make you happy.
  • There is no eternal, unchanging soul and "self" is just a collection of changing characteristics or attributes.

Which celebrity is Buddhist? ›

Though its origins are distant, there are plenty of famous American Buddhists. Beloved Star Wars director George Lucas is Buddhist, as is Goldie Hawn and Orlando Bloom. They are far from the only celebrity Buddhist followers though. David Bowie and Steve Jobs were both known Buddhists.

What is the greatest festival of Buddhism? ›

Vesak: The Buddha's birthday is known as Vesak and is one of the major festivals of the year.

What is the festival of miracles Buddhism? ›

Chotrul Düchen occurs on the full moon (the fifteenth day) of the first Tibetan month, which is called Bumgyur Dawa. The first fifteen days of the year celebrate the fifteen days on which, in order to increase the merit and the devotion of future disciples, Buddha displayed a different miracle.

What is the Ghost Festival in Buddhism? ›

The Ghost Festival, also called the Hungry Ghost Festival, is held on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. Both Buddhists and Taoists celebrate this festival. The belief is that the gate to the underworld opens on the first day of the seventh lunar month. This month is regarded as the Ghost Month.

What is the celebration of Buddha's day called? ›

Vesak, also known as Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, and Buddha Day, is a holiday observed by Buddhists and some Hindus.

What is the name for the Buddhist festival of souls? ›

O-Bon, the Spirit Festival, is an important Buddhist festival to honor ancestors and pray for the souls of the departed. The souls of the ancestors are believed to return to the world from beyond.

What is the Buddhist holy day? ›

Vesak (Buddha Day) – Celebrated every year on the full moon in May, this is the most significant Buddhist holiday. Theravada Buddhists commonly celebrate this day of the year on which (in different years) the Buddha was born, attained full awakening (enlightenment), and died over 2,500 years ago.

What is the Bodhi festival? ›

Bodhi Day is a holiday which falls on December 8th to. celebrate the day in which Siddhartha Gautama sat. underneath the Bodhi tree and attained enlightenment. This one defining moment would become the central. foundation upon which Buddhism has been built upon for.

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