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Gaetano Kazuo Maida

Gaetano Kazuo Maida is the Executive Director of Buddhist Film Foundation, one of the directors and founders of Tricycle magazine, and producer and director of 'Peace Is Every Step' a cinematographic profile of the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

Noted filmmaker and well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher Khyentse Norbu surprises us with a new, unannounced, low key dramatic feature filmed on location in Bhutan, his birth country. Pig At the Crossing joins a select group of ambitious films that take the viewer on a journey through the bardo, the gap, or interval, between this life and the next (or between birth and death…). These include the recent Bardo, by Alejandro Iñarritu, or course, as well as Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, Giuseppe Tornatore’s A Pure Formality, and even The Sixth Sense, among others. Unlike those, however, Norbu’s film is a low budget, small and nonprofessional cast project that carries with it the director’s keen sense of all the resonances of the bardo teachings, a core component of Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The Dalai Lama regularly refers to his own daily practice of “preparing for death.”

Here, Dolom, a young YouTube video producer, is having an affair with Deki, a married woman, and he’s first seen at a market bargaining with a friend for a pregnancy test and some Viagra medication. He’s then on his motorcycle enroute to Deki, voice messaging her with one hand as he drives, and there’s a crash. The rest of the film sees Dolom slowly—very slowly—coming to terms with the reality of his demise. He has a number of encounters with strangers (and his mother) along the way, one of whom, marvelously personified in a serene and seemingly bemused performance, appears to be a finger-snapping Indian sadhu who says he’s “sort of a tourist guide” and speaks to Dolom (in English, curiously) in an attempt to help him see what has happened; they debate the evidence: “Do not worry, death is just a story… you will forget what ‘Dolom’ is." A great deal of good advice pours from him but generally falls on deaf ears, despite Dolom's witnessing scenes of mourning, funeral arrangements, a cremation, and Buddhist monks chanting, all without him being heard or seen by any living person. His mobile is never far from his hand. There’s also a wonderful sequence that seems to be an off-hand homage to the “Zone” landscape in director Andrei Tarkovsky’s great Stalker, known to be one of Norbu’s favorite films.

This is a psychological journey that, it is strongly suggested, is in store for us all when our bodies cease to support the consciousness we identify as “I,” and the attachments and fears and desires of this “I" begin to separate, gracefully or not. Pig at the Crossing offers a genial and relatable contemporary tale of this sense of bardo

The film also represents director Norbu’s effort to help the homegrown Bhutan film community gain some international exposure. His earlier Hema Hema, Sing Me A Song While I Wait, and Travellers & Magicians were also filmed in Bhutan, as was the Academy Award-nominee directed by his Hema Hema… producer Pawo Dorji, Lunana—A Yak in the Classroom, but all with predominately foreign, or generally professional crews. Pig at the Crossing features many local first timers both in front of and behind the camera.

—Gaetano Kazuo Maida

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