Whispering Mountains: The Living Presence of the Jonang by Alexander Smolowe
The untold story of the Jonang, a lost Buddhist tradition nestled deep in the eastern mountains of Tibet.
The Journey Continues!
We did it! $4,000 and still a week to go. We feel so blessed by this amazing outpouring of support that has helped us to realize that there is a wide and enthusiastic audience for this film… so why stop here!
While our goal has guaranteed that the filmmakers will be able to cover their base travel costs, there are still many places the film can go with the support of additional funding. It is for this reason we would like to introduce our “Stretch Goals”, which are new benchmarks to cover over this last week of fundraising! In addition to providing access to more equipment and resources, there will be several new options open to us:
At $6,000, we will be able to compile a “Behind-the-Scenes” featurette to be delivered along with the final film. With an expected hundreds of hours of footage to sort through, we will be able to reveal a candid look at the filmmakers’ travels.
At $8,000, we will be able to travel to locations throughout the U.S. over the course of the year and conduct additional interviews with various Jonang communities, supporters and scholars – this means a more thorough, developed and engaging final product!
At $12,000, we will be able to return with additional resources, crew and time in order to explore new regions, conduct new interviews and practically DOUBLE the content potential of the film!
What We Are Doing
This feature-length documentary tells the story of the Jonang, capturing on film for the first time a distinct tradition of Buddhism that was thought by many to be lost, but is now appearing to the world outside of its remote enclaves in far eastern Tibet. It narrates the history of the Jonang Buddhist tradition, from their settling in central Tibet in the thirteenth century to their migration across the plateau and resettling in eastern Tibet from the mid-seventeenth century onwards up to the present-day.
We will share rare footage of this living tradition, its monastic and pilgrimage sites, art and artifacts, interviews with elder Jonang meditation masters, and discussions with scholars. Special attention will be given to their unique spiritual heritage as knowledge-holders of the Kalachakra Tantra and zhentong meditative view.
While the breadth of content we wish to cover may require more than the single month-long journey this summer, the construction of our documentary will begin immediately upon our return, and updates of its progress shared liberally with our supporters (that’s you!). The final production of this documentary, set to be a feature-length 90-120 minutes, will be distributed through film festivals and to universities with Asian studies and related programs.
The Jonang Tradition
Established in Central Tibet during the late 13th century, the Jonang tradition of Tibetan Buddhism continues on in an unbroken lineage of successive transmissions from the time of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Though the Jonang were considered by Western scholars to have been extinct since their 17th century demise in Central Tibet, and were thought to have assimilated into alternative Tibetan Buddhist traditions such as the Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu, the Jonang are now known to have survived as their own distinct tradition.
In the 1960’s, many of the great living exemplars of the Jonang were forced out of their monasteries, and they fled into the countryside of Amdo where they wandered as nomads or took shelter in caves as yogis. Over the next two decades, the Jonangpa lived without homes in their homeland, gathering during the summer for their annual rains-retreat in order to continue to transmit their lineage. After the Cultural Revolution in 1976, the Jonangpa began returning to their monasteries where they have been rebuilding monasteries and reviving their unique spiritual tradition up to today.
The Jonang continue transmitting their vital views and practices from the Kalachakra Tantra or Wheel of Time Continuum while sustaining their unique understanding of mind and reality known as zhentong. As the exclusive holders of the six-fold vajrayoga of the Kalachakra completion stage, and the distinctive zhentong meditative view, this little-known tradition undoubtedly offers a fuller perspective on the whole of Buddhism.
What We Have / What We Need
With ever-improving advancements in the realm of digital photography and cinematography, capturing high-quality content has never been so affordable (or portable). The Whispering Mountains team will be utilizing the new Canon 5D Mark III DSLR camera, capable of capturing crisp 1080p video even in the lowest of lighting situations, along with a range of sharp, professional lenses, audio equipment and support. It is a camera package that is at the same time both powerful and discreet. Previous fundraising efforts have afforded us this fantastic system.
Your contribution will go towards travel costs, which includes a plane ticket, as well as on-the-ground transportation, etc. There has been so much support poured into this project already — all we need is the last little bit to get us there!
Any funding that exceeds the initial minimum will go towards additional camera gear, post-production costs, and future filming in the field.
Thank you for your consideration and support. Much appreciation to the Jonang Foundation for their collaboration, and use of their description of the tradition and images from their archive. A special thanks to friends of the project – Jess Benjamin (Jonang Nuns Project), James Herron and Larry Cedar – who lent their extraordinary talents to help us make the best pitch video possible!
Risks and challenges
There are obvious challenges in an undertaking such as this. The geographical climate is harsh, unforgiving, and thousands of feet above sea level. It is for these reasons that few in the world are able to travel here, and even fewer able to capture the sorts of images that we’re looking to get. However, with aid from our guides, our network of exemplars from the Jonang tradition, and unprecedented access, we are uniquely qualified to tackle these many hurdles.