Vajra Sky Over Tibet

Opens at Metro, Fri., Sept. 29. Not rated. 87 minutes.

"When the iron bird flies, the dharma will go to the West," says a 1,500-year-old Tibetan Buddhist prophecy, one that seems to have been amply fulfilled in 1959 when Mao's Communist forces overwhelmed Tibet, killed a million or so Tibetans, and forced the 14th Dalai Lama into his exile. Ever since, there has been a deliberate long-term undermining of Tibet's ancient Buddhist cultureā€”deep physical and spiritual scars remain on this tiny, beleaguered nation. Buddhist filmmaker John Bush took a two-person crew into the country and filmed, often surreptitiously, the great religious sites as they exist now, after decades of oppression by Beijing. He finds a resilient, welcoming people who continue to practice their religion (now "officially tolerated") despite the infiltration of Chinese agents into their monasteries, the razing of many sites to facilitate surveillance, and the kidnapping of the family of the 9-year-old Pandau Lama (whose future duty is to choose the next Dalai Lama) and his replacement by a 6-year-old Beijing-backed stooge. Bush's stunning camera work adroitly captures the majestic landscapes and icons of Buddhism. Not incidentally, the film also offers a compact primer in the ways of dharma. A tonic for Buddhists, no doubt, it offers many pleasures to atheists as well. JOHN Patterson

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