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Is Enlightenment a 21st century option? An up-close look at the complex collaboration of Tibetan Buddhism and Western culture.

WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West is the first feature length documentary to take a comprehensive look at the impact Tibetan Buddhism is having on Western culture. The film creates a vivid portrait of the world of Tibetan Buddhism as it is manifesting in the West–from the personal experiences and insights of teachers and practitioners to the wide-ranging dialogues taking place between Buddhist teachings and the worlds of science, psychology, and the arts.

We began shooting this film in April of 2009. It’s been a huge undertaking and we are now thrilled to be in the final phase of editing. We hope that you feel inspired to contribute to the film, spread the word to others, or simply take time to learn about our project! 

Check out our latest Kickstarter Project Update.

Follow us on Facebook.

Enjoy the 20 minute preview on Vimeo.

Visit our Iron Bird web page.

See our 5 minute trailer below.

WHAT THIS FILM IS ABOUT

"When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth."  – Guru Padmasambhava of Tibet, 8th Century

In 1959, the Chinese invasion of Tibet threw open the doors to the mysterious realm of Tibetan Buddhism, and suddenly these ancient teachings became accessible to the modern western world.

Fifty years into this extraordinary spiritual collaboration between East and West our film asks: Where are we now? What have we learned? What is working… and what isn’t? Is there such a thing as a Western Tibetan Buddhism? And what does it look like? Along the way, we tackle the controversial issues of patriarchy, hierarchy, the student-teacher relationship, gender bias, and the importance of lineage in the transmission of Dharma from East to West.

And the film explores the vital question – “In these increasingly chaotic modern times, can these age old teachings help us find genuine happiness and create a saner, more compassionate 21st century world?”

THE STORY OF THE FILM

“When the Iron Bird Flies” weaves an intricate tapestry of interviews with contemporary teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, stories of western practitioners, rare archival footage, and striking images of modern life that illuminate and make accessible the Buddha’s core teachings. 

During the past three years of production we have traveled to England, Mexico, Nepal, India and throughout the US, filming many of the established and emerging teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West, including:

Tsoknyi Rinpoche III, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Anam Thubten, Choegyal Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, HH Dalai Lama, HH 17th Karmapa, Phakchok Rinpoche, Khandro Rinpoche, and Mingyur Rinpoche.

Western teachers and scholars featured in the film include Reggie Ray, Tsultrim Allione, Alan Wallace, Gerardo Abboud, Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyal, Fleet Maull, Sharon Salzberg, Marcia Binder-Schmidt, Matthieu Ricard, Dr. Rita Gross,  E. Gene Smith and Dr. Richard Davidson.

The film includes compelling stories of Western Buddhist practitioners from a variety of Tibetan traditions, including:

  • A German nun who we see become the first woman in the history of the Tibetan Buddhist world to receive the degree of Geshe (equivalent to a PHD).
  •  A young man, who after living on the streets as a homeless youth moves to India and begins an intensive study of Buddhist philosophy in an all-Tibetan college.
  •  A man who spent thirteen years in prison where he developed a deep connection with Tibetan Buddhist practice, who now teaches all over the world. We see his personal life integrate his understanding of the teachings with the care of his dying partner.
  •  A young woman who leaves her job and a fast-paced party life in New York City to spend five months in solitary retreat in the mountains of Colorado.

WHERE WE ARE AND WHERE WE NEED TO GO

Working on the film has been an extraordinary journey for both of us. Over the course of three years of production, we have filmed many amazing people who bring a diverse range of voices to the project – from Buddhist feminist scholars to scientists studying the effects of meditation on the brain, from accomplished Tibetan Lamas to Buddhist rappers and everything in between.

Both of us have been engaged with Tibetan Buddhism for a number of years. The film is an expression of our passion to bring together our Buddhist practice and our work as filmmakers to create a film that inspires and provokes discussion in Buddhist and non-Buddhist communities alike.

What needs to be done:

Our goal is to complete WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES by June, 2012.  We are in the editing phase now, working with editor Catherine Hollander (“The Tailenders”) and consulting editor Johanna Demetrakas (“Crazy Wisdom”). 

We have been invited to premiere the film on June 16th at BuddhaFest, a four-day festival that happens annually in Washington, D.C. Tsoknyi Rinpoche will be there to present the film.

In order to meet our goal, we must raise $30,000 to cover the final costs of post-production – including the sound mix, color correction work, archival and music licensing, and DVD design and production.

How you can help:

By supporting our Kickstarter campaign for WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES, you can help us meet our goal!

Here’s how it works:

MAKE A DONATION TO THE FILM AND YOU GET A REWARD.
Choose the amount you’d like to donate, and the gift you’d like to receive. Once funding is completed, we will contact you to arrange receipt of your gift.

IF WE DON’T MEET OUR GOAL, WE DON’T GET ANY OF THE MONEY.
That’s right, even if we’re $10 short of our goal, we won’t get the money. That’s why we need your help!

IF WE RAISE ALL OR MORE THAN OUR TARGET AMOUNT BEFORE THE DEADLINE, WE GET TO KEEP THE WHOLE AMOUNT.  We are on a tight budget – any funds raised in excess of our goal are still very much needed and will pay for the completion, distribution and marketing of the film. Let's get this film out there to audiences worldwide!

***TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS***
If you'd like to make a tax-deductible donation of $250 or more, please contact producer Victress Hitchcock, victress@chariotvideos.com to arrange a donation through our partnership with a 501c3 organization.

Please add $15 to your pledge if we will be shipping your reward overseas.

THANK YOU

There are many organizations and individuals who have been behind this film since the beginning and we are very grateful to all of them. We have joined Kickstarter to finish the last stage of the production of WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES. With your support, we will complete a beautiful and important film!

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THE FILM

“I am an increasing believer in the power of inspired filmmaking to convey the essence of living dharma. Many people, dharma students or not, who have seen Blessings, a film about the Nangchen Nuns in Eastern Tibet, were deeply affected and for some it changed their lives in a meaningful way.

I am pleased to again be working with the makers of Blessings, Victress Hitchcock and Amber Bemak, on a new film that tells the evolving story of how Tibetan dharma, moving from the monasteries and retreat caves of the East to the rapidly changing and speedy modern world, is affecting the 21st century. 

I have faith that this film will inspire many people to explore these precious and ever timely teachings. I know that the film will be of great benefit in these difficult times.”

– Tsoknyi Rinpoche III, Pundarika Foundation

“This is what separates film from all the other arts. We get to watch
extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist masters transfer the vast principles of the Buddha's teachings to western students on the spot! And it plays like a dance of heart-breaking awakening, a profound cultural communication full of life and it’s happening right now.  It's a masterful job of filmmaking.”

– Johanna Demetrakas, Director, CRAZY WISDOM, The Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche 

"This film is a moving and vivid documentation of the transmission of the Dharma from East to West and it's message is a vital and much needed one in today's difficult times."

– Kate Crisp, Executive Director, Prison Dharma Network.

'We are living an historic moment when Buddhism is moving from East to West, and for the first time the Tibetan teachings have moved beyond their traditional borders. This crucial time of the establishment of the Tibetan Vajrayana lineages in the West is documented by the makers of the acclaimed film BLESSINGS. How does a remote Asian tradition, the most esoteric in the world, become accessible and practical in the West? In WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES, we discover a variety of creative responses to this question from the teachers and practitioners of the Tibetan teachings in the West.”

– Tsultrim Allione, founder of Tara Mandala and author of “Women of Wisdom” and “Feeding Your Demons”

“We are awed by how such a negative and tragic event like the invasion of Tibet has resulted in something so positive -- Buddhism's rapid spread to the West. WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES is a film that needs to be seen. This year, BuddhaFest looks at how the Western world has been waking up to mindfulness, and how these practices are helping to transform our society. WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES is the perfect film to show just how this awakening has come about. We're proud to be premiering it in June at BuddhaFest.”

– Gabriel Riera and Eric Forbis, Co-directors of BuddhaFest

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    Download an inspiring audio teaching by an American dharma teacher. Pick one of these titles, courtesy of Sounds True - “Touching Enlightenment” by Reginald Ray, “Cutting through Fear” by Tsultrim Allione and “Getting Unstuck: Breaking your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality” by Pema Chodron. One Download per pledge. Be sure to indicate your selection when you pledge.

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    We will send you a DVD copy of the film PLUS Ravenna Michalsen’s CD "Bloom" - a series of original devotional songs to Arya Tara, Milarepa, Machik Labdron and other figures in the Buddhist pantheon. One of Ravenna’s songs, Kiki SoSo is featured in our trailer and preview.

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    Receive a special limited edition DVD ( with illustrated booklet) of "Blessings,” our previous film about a group of amazing Tibetan nuns living in Eastern Tibet, plus a DVD copy of “When the Iron Bird Flies” and a set of beautiful prayer flags.

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    You will receive a personally inscribed copy of Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s new book, “Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love” being released in spring 2012, plus a DVD copy of “When the Iron Bird Flies” and a special thank you in our film credits. Let us know to whom the inscription should be made. The DVD will ship in July.

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    Attend a weekend program with Tsoknyi Rinpoche at Garrison Institute, April 6-8 “Living Dharma in a Speedy World ( travel and lodging not included), plus receive a personally inscribed copy of his new book, Open Heart, Open Mind. And a special thank you in our film credits.

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    A weekend program for one person with Anam Thubten (travel and lodging not included), at your choice of one his 2012 scheduled events in the US. FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED. LIMIT of ONE PER VENUE. PLEASE EMAIL US YOUR SELECTION BEFORE PLEDGING SO WE CAN CONFIRM AVAILABILITY. We will update the list as pledges are received. Here is the list of available venues: March 31-April 1 Baton Rouge, LA; April 28-29 Jackson Hole, WY; May 5-6 Ashland, OR; May 12-13 Los Angeles, CA; May 18-19 Portland, OR; June 9-10 Albuquerque, NM; June 23-24 Maui, HI; July 7-8 Boston, MA; July 21 Princeton, NJ; July 22 New York City, NY; September 1-2 Big Island, HI; September 15-16 Bozeman, MT; September 29-30 Washington, DC; October 5-6 Seattle, WA; November 17-18 Austin, TX. Plus receive a personally inscribed copy of his new book - Magic of Awareness. And a special thank you in our film credits.

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    We are pleased to offer a signed limited edition 13X19 fine art print of the Potala Palace by renowned photographer Richard Heckler ( a $400 value), plus a DVD copy of the film to be released in July, plus a set of beautiful prayer flags from Nepal, and a special thank you in our film credits

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    Enjoy a week long retreat with Tsoknyi Rinpoche, “A Dzogchen Approach to an Open Heart and Open Mind”, August 10-16 in Crestone, CO ( travel and accommodations not included), plus a signed copy of his new book and a special thank you in our film credits.

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    Come to the PREMIERE of the film at BuddhaFest and stay for the whole festival! Receive two 4-Day All Festival Passes to BuddhaFest, in Washington DC where “When the Iron Bird Flies” will be premiering on June 16, 2012. BuddhaFest is an extravaganza of films, speakers, meditation, and music. Now in its third year, this year’s guests include Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach, Rick Hanson, Congressman Tim Ryan ( author of the upcoming book, “A Mindful Nation”), Krishna Das and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Plus you will receive a copy of the DVD of the film to be released in July and a special thank you in our credits.

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    We are offering a ONE WEEK STAY FOR TWO at Sri Sunari - a delightful 4 room guest house in Ubud, Bali – winner of a Traveller’s Choice Award for 2012! The offer includes incredible breakfasts and is good for one year – until March 17, 2013. Airfare is not included. Blackout dates – June 15 – Sept 5 and December 15-Jan 5. If you are planning a trip to Bali – consider adding this week of unparelled relaxation at Sri Sunari to your journey.

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    You are invited to attend Lama Tsultrim’s Green Tara Retreat, July 27-31 at beautiful Tara Mandala retreat center in Colorado on a full scholarship! Double occupancy accommodations in the lodge and food are included. Travel not included. Plus you will receive a special thank you in our film credits.

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    Enjoy a week long retreat with Tsoknyi Rinpoche, “A Dzogchen Approach to an Open Heart and Open Mind”, August 10-16 in Crestone, CO plus accommodations ( travel not included), plus a signed copy of his new book and a special thank you in our film credits.

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    Receive two 4-Day All Festival Passes to BuddhaFest, in Washington DC where “When the Iron Bird Flies” will be premiering on June 16, 2012, plus lunch with the filmmakers plus a DVD copy of “When the Iron Bird Flies”, and a film poster, and a special thank you in our film credits. DVD and poster will be shipped in July.

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    For this extraordinarily generous pledge, we will fly to your home town ( in the US only!) and do a special screening of “When the Iron Bird Flies” for your friends and family or community. AND you will receive an associate producer’s credit on the film and the opportunity to provide feedback on the rough cut. You will also receive a DVD copy of “When the Iron Bird Flies”and a film poster ( with your producer credit on it!

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