This creative documentary directed by Russian filmmaker Vitali Manski follows His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala, India, from his early morning prayers at three in the morning to his bedtime at dusk. This exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetan people has said of himself: "Sometimes the people call me a living Buddha or a God King, but I always say, this is nonsense. I am a simple Buddhist monk. Through this film you will realize, I am a normal human being, nothing special. Just a normal Buddhist monk."
The Dalai Lama's humility is genuine as is his adherence to a rigorous daily schedule. A typical day is a mix of devotional activities, private audiences with visitors, press conferences, and cheerful greetings and blessings given to Tibetans and others who line the paths where he walks.
It is quite a treat to see the Dalai Lama exercising on a treadmill just like millions of other people around the world. Although his Buddhist philosophy is focused on the mind, he sees the importance of taking good care of the body. The director, who provides a running commentary on his activities, notes at one point that it's a paradox that a man of nonviolence is surrounded by armed body guards. But given the continuing tension between China and Tibet, these are necessary precautions. More than 200 study at the monastery and listen to teachings given by the Dalai Lama, which can run from one to five hours. We see him giving a lecture with references to the Big Bang, the self, and compassion as "the basic nature of the mind."
Throughout the documentary, the Dalai Lama puts on display his warm-heartedness, his interest in science, and his high regard for those who come to see him. In a fascinating moment, he is sipping his evening tea (he does not eat any dinner) and doing some TV channel surfing. He flips to the BBC, his favorite, and sees an interview with himself. He pokes fun at himself for not smiling enough and looking so serious.
The last section of Sunrise/Sunset contains his responses to the growing gap between the rich and the poor, overpopulation, and the role of the individual in religion and in society. This film presents a rounded portrait of a day in the life of this thoughtful, devotional, and tireless spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
This documentary is also available on demand. Screen it online and apply the purchase of your Online Screening Ticket ($4.98) to the purchase of the DVD.