Dhamma Brothers – Follow-up

The Dhamma Brothers is a film that chronicles what happens when two Buddhist teachers enter Alabama’s tough William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility to teach prisoners an ancient meditation technique called Vipassana. In this update, find out how many prisoners have taken the Vipassana program since the filming. Plus, former inmate Charles Ice shares how meditation has given him a sense of peace since leaving prison.

Read more at Oprah.com

The Dhamma Brothers

The Dhamma Brothers tells a dramatic story of human potential and transformation as it closely follows and documents the stories of a group of prisoners as they enter into this arduous program. It will challenge assumptions about the very nature of prisons as places of punishment rather than rehabilitation. Despite the difficulty in obtaining permission to film inside a prison, the Alabama Department of Corrections allowed a film crew to document, not only the Vipassana program, but many other scenes and settings revealing the daily lives of prisoners and staff.

Before the Vipassana retreat, the men openly express fear and trepidation, wondering what they will find when they look deeply within and face the consequences of past actions and trauma. They are shown packing their scant belongings and preparing for the journey inside, a very short walk down the prison corridor but a sea change in their lives as prisoners. We observe the transformation of the prison gym, a frequent site for violent battles among inmates, into a monastery, a separate, restricted place in which the inmate students can eat, sleep, and meditate in total seclusion from the rest of prison society.

The Vipassana teachers, Bruce and Jonathan, prepare to live and meditate with the inmates. Teachers and inmates, men from culturally different worlds, are locked together in a dramatically revealing process. This is, most likely, the first time non-inmates have ever lived among inmates inside a prison.

Seated on meditation mats on a red rug donated by the Warden, wrapped in navy blue blankets, the men sit still in silence as they journey inside. Their days are punctuated by a strict daily routine of eating, sleeping and meditating.

After the Vipassana retreat, the men tell their tales of pain and self-discovery. The spiritual warriors of Donaldson Correctional Facility discuss their collective experiences and vow to try to maintain their nascent sense of solidarity. In the nameless, faceless anonymity of prison life, where daily life is organized around social control and punishment, Vipassana has offered an alternative social identity based on brotherhood and spiritual development.

The stories of the men at Donaldson Correctional Facility are those of the unseen, unheard, and underserved. This film shines a spotlight upon society’s outcasts and untouchables as we witness them on their Odyssean journey into their misery to emerge with a sense of peace and purpose.

Learn more about the film at – www.dhammabrothers.com

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana

Winner of the Golden Spire Award at the 1998 San Francisco International Film Festival, this extraordinary documentary takes viewers into India’s largest prison – known as one of the toughest in the world – and shows the dramatic change brought about by the introduction of Vipassana meditation. In giving Doing Time, Doing Vipassana its top honour, the jury stated that:

“it was moved by this insightful and poignant exposition on Vipassana. The teaching of this meditation as a transformation device has many implications for people everywhere, providing the cultural, social and political institutions can embrace and support its liberating possibility.”

Winner of the 1998 NCCD Pass Awards of the American National Council on Crime and Delinquency. A distinguished panel of experts found Doing Time, Doing Vipassana to be worthy of recognition and deserving of special acclaim:

“..The National Council on Crime and Deliquency is honored to recognize your excellence in communicating the complex problems of crime to the American people. We hope this award will serve as a constant reminder that your work can make a difference..”

Be sure to view the entire film – catch all 4 segments post on Youtube.

Color Blocked

I was interviewed recently, by filmmaker, Elizabeth St. Phillip, for her documentary – The Beauty of Colour – about the absence of black models on the international fashion scene. This is a subject that has been passionately championed by many including Naomi Campbell. Models of color in Canada, who pursue careers in the fashion industry know full well, or come to grips very quickly, that the road to success is tough. The thick glass wall many meet, assert that their image may be fine for urban centres where approximately 80% of Canadians of color live but not nationally. Many faces continue to be relegated to background or are granted minimal roles in Canadian advertising and media imagery. We’re still not being positioned as spokespeople for consumer products, even though we part of the ‘mosaic’.

Beyond the limited diversity presented on America’s and Canada’s Next Top Model, the reality of the fashion industry in recent years is frightening. Truth be known, the reality for most models of color is bleak. They continue to be a rarity on the runways of most top designers or on the pages, never mind the covers of fashion magazines. And those who spring from Canadian roots are an even more rare species. Why is this, particularly in a country that boasts pride in diversity?

As a former model/dancer/actor in the 80’s come producer/director in the 90’s I have always, and regrettably 25 years later, continue to grapple with the challenges faced by some talent.

I remember auditioning in the 80’s for a principal role as a high school football player in a TV ad for a major Canadian Bank. My agent called the day after to tell me I had given an ‘amazing’ audition, that both the casting agent and the director wanted me for the job, but the bank’s representatives were meeting to decide whether or not they’d be comfortable with me as the lead. I didn’t get the part. I got instead, an SOC (silent on camera) as one of the teammates.

I was the Black boy next-door but ‘too Black’ said one fashion editor of Toronto Life Magazine. I soon decided not to sit around waiting for modeling jobs I’d never get. I chose to go behind the scenes to create the shows. After all, behind the scenes, no one would care what I look like.

For the next 20 years I created incredible shows and events, locally and internationally for top designers and retailers. Over this time I took note of how many Black models appeared and disappeared. Some went on to moderate international fame. But those who stayed on in Toronto, the greater percentage of hopefuls, fell by the wayside. They quit the business out of sheer frustration and recurring disappointment.

Today, there is still just a handful of Black Canadian models, like Yasmine Warsame, who find big success. Most Canadian agents, clients, advertisers still shun non-white talent. This phenomenon is a trickle down effect from the international scene.