Documentary Feature |69 mins. | USA
Director: Shaeri Richards, Jerry Hartleben
Zen, Life and the Art of Non-Doing
A Review of “Moving from Emptiness: the Life and Art of a Zen Dude”
What is Zen? Short answer: silence or complete emptiness. What does that mean? In an emotionally captivating documentary about Zen calligraphic artist Alok Hsu Kwang-han, an answer to the latter question goes something like this: “In Zen, you absolutely have to do things the way everybody else does, unless you don’t.” Zen spiritual leader John Tarrant laughingly describes Alok as one of the “unless you don’t” people.
In “Moving from Emptiness: the Life and Art of a Zen Dude” from directors Shaeri Richards and Jerry Hartleben, the art of painting psychic images — or in other words a life’s journey — begins with a single step, that of putting brush to canvas in Zen calligraphic portraiture. In partnership with his beloved Raylene Abbott, Kwang-han’s Zen Arts workshops are “really about the artist becoming more aware” of what their energy is telling them. Alok explains: “I like painting people’s energy and their essence and their evolution.” Attendees learn to begin with a metaphorical blank page or in other words, to begin from a point of nothingness; “… this intimacy with not-knowing allows the creativity to come through.”
How do you get to this place of intimacy? Kwang-han believes that the mind builds a prison — a raincoat of suffering — that not only stifles creativity but also can hold us captive until we choose either repression or expression. Where do you start and what choices do you have to make? How could something as abstract as emotion or as elusive as water be painted?
More to the point, how could a young Chinese boy move from life with a mother who so greatly feared post World War II Japanese soldiers that she tried to abort her unborn son, to the graceful state of being a Zen calligraphic artist? The curing that had to happen for Alok Hsu Kwang-han to get past the horror of “how families pass on their shit….” is a voyage of emotions and will be sure to resonate with viewers.
The strong visual images of a healing peach tree are a powerful symbolic representation of the therapeutic path he took.
From a filmmaker’s perspective, “Zen Dude” is documentary filmmaking at its finest. It incorporates narrative film structure into documentary style, the result being a powerful, attention-holding tale. We see not only Master Kwang-han’s self-transformation but also his effect on art workshop attendees as he teaches them how to begin from a point of nothingness. While Alok demonstrates brush technique, he reflects on one of his own monochromatic paintings: “You know what it reminds me of? The path straight to the mountain top has ten thousand bends.”
“Moving from Emptiness: The Life and Art of a Zen Dude” will screen (along with short films “The Novelist [link] and Globe Trot [link]) on Saturday May 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm at the Center for Contemporary Arts. Two past Sedona Film Festival screenings were complete sellouts.
Posted by Joanna Smith
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