Film Review: ‘1000 Hands of the Guru’

At the 2016 Asian American International Film Festival
By Joe Bendel
Joe Bendel
Joe Bendel
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit JBSpins.blogspot.com
July 20, 2016 Updated: July 20, 2016

Some royals crafted humanitarian images for themselves simply by attending a few charitable cocktail parties and looking good in Versace. Her Royal Highness Princess Ashi Kesang Choden T. Wangchuck of Bhutan is different. The scholar and devout Buddhist practitioner works directly with monks and art restoration experts to preserve her nation’s heritage as the executive director of the Thangke Conservation Center.

Art restoration is a job the princess is well qualified for, but it does not leave her any time for preening PR campaigns. Fortunately, her efforts and those of her colleague and teacher, Ephraim “Eddie” Jose are documented in Tobias Reeuwijk’s “1000 Hands of the Guru,” which screens during the 2016 Asian American International Film Festival in New York.

Thangkas were essentially portable altars.

In past centuries, thangkas were essentially portable altars. They are sacred, but they are intended to be used rather than filed away. Over time, they absorb wisdom and holiness as the focus of meditation and rituals. They can never be disposed of like common detritus, but they become faded and threadbare.

With the support of Bhutan’s royal family, Jose developed a systematized restoration regimen. At first, the monks did not get it, but the results were a revelation.

Beyond her royal status, the Princess Ashi Kesang was also Western educated and tutored in Buddhist teachings by some of Bhutan’s most revered monks, making her a perfect choice to lead the Center. Frankly, she and the charismatic Jose should be a publicist’s dream, but the Buddhist nation is apparently a bit outside People Magazine’s beat.

Monk Rinchen doing conservation work on a Thangke. (Reflex USA)
Monk Rinchen doing conservation work on a Thangke. (Reflex USA)

In fact, the thoughtful and camera-friendly duo directly elevate the straightforward documentary. Despite capturing some striking images, Reeuwijk’s approach is largely reportorial, with maybe a pinch of advocacy thrown in.

However, Princess Ashi Kesang’s narration lucidly and compellingly explains the higher spiritual principles informing the Center’s work. She might even help viewers prepare for death.

It is just nice to know the Thangke Conservation Center exists in our world—albeit in a distant corner.

Reeuwijk addresses the pressures of globalization and modernization that challenge Bhutan’s traditional way of life, but there still seems be a considerable place for contemplation and faith in the Himalayan nation. Smart and sensitive to its subjects and surroundings, the 65 minute “1000 Hands of the Guru” is educational in a relaxed, easy-going way. Highly recommended for those who care about the preservation of art and culture, it screens this Friday (July/22) at the Village East, as part of this year’s AAIFF.

‘1000 Hands of the Guru’
Documentary
Director: Tobias Reeuwijk
Running Time: 1 hour, 5 minutes 
Release Date: July 22
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5 

Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit jbspins.blogspot.com

Joe Bendel
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, visit JBSpins.blogspot.com