Crazy Wisdom depicts the life of Chogyam Trungpa, the bad boy of Buddhism who left Tibet during the invasion by the Chinese army, and spent the rest of his life studying and teaching in the West. Based on compassion and courage, his principles sought an enlightened way of living, away from western materialists considerations.
In your own words, how would you define Crazy Wisdom?
Basically, Buddhism, through meditation and the wisdom of 2,500 years of inquiry and practice works to keep us in the present moment actually working with reality. Or, as it's often described, things as they are. Most of us know that there is a tremendous amount of tint in our glasses, that we all see reality through many different filters; personality, need, desire, basically ego. The Crazy Wisdom teacher lives in the present moment with no biases whatsoever and faces reality directly without hesitation. This often leads him/her to behave in ways that are shocking to the rest of us. Sounds impossible doesn't it?
Through several heart-breaking interviews, you emphasize how much Chogyam Trungpa teachings meant for a large community of Americans in times of war (the Vietnam War) and decay of spiritual values. How relevant is his commitment to an enlightened society in regards to current issues?
I cannot think of a more relevant time for CRAZY WISDOM to come out. Through the years since Trungpa's death, thinking about, then making the film, I often worried that it's taken too long. But in the last 5 years, as we've seen the world staggering from environmental, political and economic crisis, and even the danger of nuclear catastrophe, it seems painfully clear that sanity through courage and compassion must be cultivated not just one person at a time, but as a society.
Do you believe that these principles survived Chogyam Trungpa's death?
Yes, definitely, and not just with his group of students. Or even in the great growth of all kinds of Buddhist communities. These principles are being mirrored in the work of many, many of the thinkers, movers and shakers in all walks of life. "Community" is the driving model
in society today. It's in the basic goodness of human beings to figure out that sacrificing life's beautiful gifts at the alters of ego and materialism leads to fear and loneliness and the breakdown of society. Community forces us to open our hearts and minds to others.
Do you think today's activists can learn from his teachings?
Without a doubt. They will have to display discipline and confidence in their vision, which is not easy against the lords of materialism.
Finding meaning in a person's life and conveying it to an audience is one of the most challenging features of producing a biopic. In that regard, how did you manage to convey Chogyam Trungpa teaching's without hiding the more controversial aspect of his everyday life, such as his drinking, smoking and womanizing?
I'm lucky, the tradition that Trungpa established was based on transparency. Why would I waste film time to cover up something that was out in the open? I tried to tell the story as I saw it, honestly, and let my audience decide for themselves. I suppose you could say that I put my trust in the teachings and the material.
As a former student of Chogyam Trungpa in the 1970s, finding objectivity must have been difficult. However, you manage to step back, allowing viewers to make up their own minds about his teachings and how they were reflected in his life. Today is he embraced by the Buddhist community or is he still shunted as the 'bad boy' of Buddhism?
There are many talented, important and brilliant Tibetan Buddhist teachers today, most of them teaching in English. As far as I know the great majority of them have the utmost respect, even reverence for Trungpa and recognize that he sowed the seeds on a very high level, for Tibetan Buddhism to flourish in the west.
How did you handle the editing process, from the use of archive footage to the choice of the soundtrack?
The editing took place over a 4 year period, interspersed with shooting the film all over the world. So I had a chance to develop ideas, let them sit for while and bring in new stuff to shake things up. From the beginning I tried to tell a story, balance the teaching aspect, reflect the humour, cover the important biographical aspects, and always, always let Trungpa do the heavy lifting.
I loved evoking an era in time: this is an important aspect of understanding Trungpa. If he came along today, he would manifest completely differently I'm sure.
It was a daunting task to find the right tone for the music to accompany this complex film. Our composer Sean Callery had studied Trungpa's teachings of Shambhala and went very deep into his heart and considerable talent and skill to come up with an emotional and majestic score. Although we worked closely, it was Sean who found the right tone.