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Touch and Go Premieres on the Web

January 31, 2011

the young Trungpa Rinpoche on horseback in '68

Chögyam Trungpa’s first book, Born in Tibet, originally published in 1966, is a classic story of a great escape. It is an autobiographical account of Rinpoche’s upbringing in Tibet and his forced departure from the country in 1959, leading a group of three hundred refugees trying to reach India. Now, more than fifty years later, Grant MacLean has created a movie for the internet that brings the reality of the escape to life. Using technology from Google Earth and Flight Simulator, Touch and Go makes you feel that you are, if not on the journey, then certainly witnessing it at close hand.

If Chögyam Trungpa had not been successful in reaching India, what would have become of Buddhism in America and throughout the West? When you see how close he came to failure and how extraordinary his success was, it might give you pause.

A drawing by Chogyam Trungpa depicts a hazardous river crossing

While many Tibetan teachers and ordinary citizens walked out of Tibet in 1959 and ‘60, most of their journeys lasted only a few weeks. Chögyam Trungpa’s took nine months. He and his party crossed roaring rivers and used rickety ladders to scale mountain faces and cliffs. The number of mountains they climbed…well, it’s beyond conception. The party crossed umpteen passes at seventeen and eighteen-thousand feet. They had no specialized mountaineering equipment or special clothing; they ranged from babies to octogenarians. To make a path in the deep snow, the strongest among them would lay down and use his body to carve out a path for others to walk on. They got lost many times; they ran out of food and almost starved to death; they had to backtrack, sometimes for days. They had to travel at night for weeks on end. They were shot at. Some were captured. I don't want to spoil the drama for you, so I won't tell you about all the challenges they faced. But you have to watch this. It’s epic. In fact, it’s unbelievable. I actually can’t understand how they succeeded.


Remarkably, MacLean has created a movie that has dramatic tension and tells a story that grips the audience, without anyone appearing in the film! There are a few photographs of Chögyam Trungpa and others, but mainly the movie relies on the simulated landscape and fly-overs, augmented by MacLean’s excellent script and narration, plus Trungpa Rinpoche’s own drawings and an amazing map he created of the escape route.

Trungpa Rinpoche's map of the escape route

Many of those who attended the premiere this weekend in Halifax had read the book, some several times. (The film was projected onto a small screen, and held up amazingly well, considering that it's made for Internet viewing.) Many in the audience commented that, because of Trungpa Rinpoche’s understated writing style, they had never fully experienced or realized what an amazing escape this really was. Now you can’t miss it.

I think Trungpa Rinpoche would have liked Grant MacLea’s movie very much, for the spaciousness and the tension that it creates. In the 1970s, when Chögyam Trungpa was involved in making movies in America himself, he wanted to make a film about the great yogi Milarepa with no actors in it. Speaking of this project, he said, “If we can create a tension without using human beings visually, that would be an incredible challenge.”  Grant MacLean has achieved this. Watch it when you have time and space to watch it. Turn down the lights, let yourself be drawn in.

Grant is now hoping to make his film for the big screen, and to interview some of the last remaining survivors of this epic march across the Himalayas. Let’s hope he succeeds.


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3 Responses to Touch and Go Premieres on the Web

  • Gika Henning says:

    I loved "Born in Tibet." Have read most of Chögyam Trungpa's books that are available in the library. How do I get to see the movie? Am in the Catskills. Thank you,
    Gika

    Posted on February 8, 2011 at 6:13 am

  • Mary Hunter Leach says:

    Thank you for making this astounding account available. It makes any travail we think we have in the west look like blueberry pancakes.Each step going toward the Budda's land as precious brings new meaning now to my heart in facing the tests of each day. Thank you. What an inheritance in this precious lineage. OM AH HUNG.

    Posted on February 8, 2011 at 6:02 pm

  • Carolyn GImian says:

    Hi Gika, I missed your comment. You can view the film at the Chronicles of CTR site. They're at:

    chroncicleproject.com

    Just search tough and go

    Cheers, Carolyn GImian

    Posted on May 14, 2011 at 7:47 am

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