Filmmaker Rick Ray is nothing short of a veteran when it comes to documentaries concerning the region consisting of the near-Eastern countries that include India, Tibet, Israel, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, and any other countries you can think of in that area of the world. But he shouldn’t be considered a veteran because of the amount of films he has directed – only five, four of which went straight-to-video, but he should be judged by the actual research and time that he takes to create each film. It took him six to seven months to create 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama and that makes it no exception. During that time Rick Ray and his fellow camera man filmed in the Northern Himalayas, India, and even Tibet (under dangerous circumstances no doubt) in order to get footage that is as authentic and as real as it gets.
There is no doubt in my mind that Rick Ray means well, and after this film there is no doubt in my mind that he’s a Buddhist. While I am a moderately devout Christian, I have frequently expressed my respect toward the Buddhist religion, because the lessons it preaches, especially the ones about peace and non-violence, are similar to the ones in Christianity, but to a much more acute degree. During the filming of this documentary, Ray got to spend an hour with the Dalai Lama Himself, during a private interview. Ray chooses to make this meeting the main theme of the film, inter-cutting it with the rest of the footage – the peace of the Himalayas, the rage of Tibet, the industrialization of India – in order to punctuate the Dalai Lama’s teachings as they apply to the current state of affairs in the region.
While that is all well and good, and is definitely an epic proposition, Ray fails to make it intriguing. It is true that many times I was awed by the mere scope of the whole film, but I never felt overwhelmed or affected enough by it to really have a fulfilling experience. Ray makes the same mistake that fellow travel-filmmaker Luc Schaedler made with his effort to shine a light on the region Angry Monk: Reflections on Tibet. Both films, and Ray’s even more so, rely on the mere fact that this footage is really difficult to come by, in order to get our attention. At no point during its uniform 85 minute running time did i think this film was beautiful, even if I noticed the relevance of its imagery in the context that it was presented.
But for a film that relies so much on the inter-cutting between settings and the different emotions each of them needs to spur inside the viewer, it is very roughly edited. Ray is a wealthy gentleman who puts his money to good use and makes films containing positive messages, but he desperately needs to package his films better than he is. The score by Peter Kater does not help the episodic nature of the film, but there is a very humbling theme that he associated with the Dalai Lama that is on the official website and is a great listen. Still, the film begs for a re-edit, because the emotionssome of the imagery contains is as powerful as anything in Islam: What the West Needs to Know, or any other successful documentary about the region.
Another important aspect of the film is the way it sends its message. Ray obviously resents the oppression in Tibet and obviously embraces the peacefulness thought by the Dalai Lama – and that is that. He seems to have included footage from Nepal only to contrast Tibet, and prove that there is beauty and peacefulness all over the world that can counter the oppression. While that is superficial, it is a fair argument. Still, everything is so obvious. This documentary’s messages seem to be targeted to a younger crowd and feels like a film that wants to be shown in 4th grade history classes – you know, the ones with the teacher who are afraid to show any documentary that even tries to be anything more than just that so it doesn’t take away from the learning experience. I felt this was a business decision by Ray and that suspicion puts an ugly veil over the whole film.
There is an argument that any footage that contains the Dalai Lama is worth seeing. If you find yourself thinking that, see this film as there is plenty. But if you want a film that goes above and beyond, and puts its hard-earned reels to good use, see something else as you will realize the lost potential this film has. But I’m sure this film will be seen in tourist facilities, elementary schools, and historic museums all over the country, and that should definitely be good enough for the filmmakers involved.