Excerpted from filmmaker Andrew Hinton’s Facebook posting on May 14, 2014
Here’s how it happened:
A couple of years ago I was in India researching a project and I received an email out of the blue from a production company in San Francisco looking for a filmmaker in India to visit a remote school called Jhamtse Gatsal. They asked me to film an American student installing educational technology there and told me the best way to reach this place was to fly into an airport called Guwahati.
Jhamtse is a two day drive from Guwahati along bumpy winding roads and tracks dotted with groups of women breaking rocks down to gravel with hammers. By the time we got close my internal organs felt displaced. All I could think was “how on earth am I going to get back?”.
We drove the last few miles in the dark until the track ended and we were met by 80 pairs of blinking eyes. After walking the welcome line of kids and teachers in a daze, I felt someone throw a little pair of arms around me. Then another. And another. And I knew I’d come to a special place.
My three day visit turned into three weeks. I met the staff members who were working so hard to realise founder Lobsang’s vision of a children’s community based on the principles of love and compassion. I met volunteers who shared the vision. I met Lobsang, the humble and inspirational monk whose dream this all was. And of course I met the kids, whose back stories were filled with tragedy and trauma but whose open hearts spoke so clearly of the possibility of transformation. I left with a promise to return to tell their stories.
Eighteen months went by before I returned. This time I had a co-conspirator in Johnny Burke – editor and fellow filmmaker extraordinaire – who joined me a couple of weeks later. He paid his own way from London on nothing more than the promise of an interesting experience and a month of surfing in Kerala for his editing.
And so, on a bench looking out across the valley to Bhutan we spent many hours discussing life, filmmaking and the search for meaning. We wrestled with the themes we saw in Lobsang’s work and talked about ways to somehow capture and share the magic we caught glimpses of.
Then it began. We woke early to film the kids waking but they always seemed to be up already, brushing teeth, sweeping corridors, playing outside. Most of the time there was a happy babble, a general murmur of contentedness about the campus. But every now again it was broken with a scream or a shout or some tears. This is how we met Tashi.
Tashi was the most recent arrival, a wild and troubled 5-year-old whose mother had died after a long illness, leaving her with an alcoholic father who had little interest in his child. She was found eating dirt by local villagers. Lobsang had taken her into the community but after six months she was still struggling to find her place and make friends. She was a huge personality in a small body.
We started following her. We filmed events around the community as they unfolded. We drew up post-its and stuck them on the wall. A shape began to emerge, then disappeared, then formed again. Lobsang graciously allowed us to keep extending our stay until two and a half months later we thought we had the makings of a film.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that’s nowhere more clear than at Jhamtse Gatsal. But it also takes a village to make a film. My deepest gratitude to all those who’ve co-created and contributed to this journey, especially Johnny who co-directed the film and shared so much of this wonderful experience and Danielle who has supported, encouraged and challenged me throughout. I can’t wait to share the results. Let’s see where it takes us all next…
“Tashi & The Monk” was finished just in time for the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado on Memorial Day weekend, where it won two awards– the 2014 NORMAN VAUGHAN INDOMITABLE SPIRIT AWARD, and the 2014 MOVING MOUNTAINS PRIZE to support Jhamtse Gatsal’s mission and impact with a $3000 grant. The film will be featured in additional festivals, and is being shown at numerous special events. Connect with us on the Tashi and the Monk Facebook page to find out when there is a showing near you.