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Film explores life of legendary rebellious Tibetan monk

March 03, 2010

A free screening of the 2005 documentary “Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet” is set for Monday, March 22, at 6:30 p.m. at Arizona State University’s West campus. The screening, presented by the Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance (IAP) Club at the West campus and Phoenix-based No Festival Required Independent Cinema, also features guest speaker Dogo Barry Graham, a Zen teacher.

Written and directed by Luc Schaedler, “Angry Monk” was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. The film explores the life of Gendun Choephel (1903-1951). Choephel is a legendary figure in Tibet, not simply because he was believed to be the reincarnation of a famous Buddhist lama but also because this promising young monk eventually turned his back on monastic life and became a fierce critic of his country’s religious conservatism, cultural isolationism and reactionary government.

After leaving the monastery in 1934, and fueled by his intellectual curiosity and free-spirited nature, Choephel began extensive travels throughout Tibet and India in order to understand the true political history of his country.

“Angry Monk” provides both a personal and political portrait of this pioneering and visionary intellectual who was also a smoking, drinking and sexually active man who renounced the “false duty of monastic obligations.” The film traces the biography and historic times of Choephel, who lived between the British colonial invasion of 1903 and the occupation by the Chinese army in 1951.

In addition to rare archival footage, Choephel's paintings and sketches, and contemporary scenes of many of the sites he visited, the documentary features interviews with Tibetan historians, scholars, writers, poets, a travel companion, a contemporaneous British diplomat, and Choephel's wife. Their commentary and reminiscences chronicle the major phases of Choephel's life, including his monastery education in Lhasa (1927-34), his journey across Tibet (1934-1938), his journey throughout India (1938-1946), and his return to Tibet (1946-1951).

Choephel's many writings include a guide book to Buddhist holy sites in India, a Tibetan translation of the Kama Sutra, and a political history of Tibet published posthumously. He also wrote articles for an expatriate newspaper that criticized Tibet as a political, cultural and scientific backwater, which in 1946 led the Tibetan government to imprison Choephel for three years as a political subversive. Today Choephel is a revered figure in his Chinese-occupied homeland, and an influential symbol of hope for those seeking political and spiritual reform in a free Tibet.

The Vancouver Sun described “Angry Monk” as “absorbing…a very useful perspective on recent Tibetan history.” According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Choephel’s life of wanderlust and revolution is worth cinematic study, and for moviegoers with even a smattering of interest in and understanding of Tibet, ‘Angry Monk’ will be an eye-opener.”

Dogo Barry Graham, the guest speaker at the March 22 event, is a novelist, poet, screenwriter, journalist and Zen teacher. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, and now based in Phoenix, Graham serves as Abbot of The Sitting Frog Zen Center.

Free seating for the screening of “Angry Monk” is available on a first-come, first-served basis in Lecture Hall 110, on the east side of the CLCC Building at 4701 W. Thunderbird Road in Phoenix. Visitor parking at ASU’s West campus costs $2 per hour.

The film contains adult content. More information about “Angry Monk” is available at

Along with the IAP Club and No Festival Required, sponsors of the March 22 event include Concilo Estudiantil de Lideres Latinos and the Philosophical and Religious Studies Society, student clubs on the West campus.

For more information, call (602) 265-9524.