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CHASING BUDDHA

SYNOPSIS
Australian expatriate Robina Courtin was converted to Buddhism more than 20 years ago. An ex-Catholic and former activist involved with left wing and feminist causes, Courtin is now a Buddhist nun whose unconventional style has brought her an international following of devotees. This documentary focuses on her teachings and work with prisoners in the United States, including several death row inmates in the Kentucky State Penitentiary. The film also shows Robina and those who know her discussing her often abrasive personality, as well as her troubled childhood, colorful earlier life, and search for spiritual truth.

"Robina Courtin's journey from radical political activist to radical Buddhist nun is a fascinating one. Although this laudatory work may not probe deeply enough into the philosophies which inspired her conversion and suffers from a little too much padding it has enough curiosity value to hold the attention of most audiences. From the moment she's introduced as a straight-talking, coffee guzzling nun with a mission to help others through the same kinds of tribulations she's experienced, Courtin is a compelling figure. The film's coup - Courtin visiting death row inmates in a Kentucky prison - provide the most insightful moments. Her frank admissions about the attraction of spending time with condemned men attempting to control their crazed energy reveal what makes this offbeat woman tick and neatly draws in the strands of her colourful life prior to her conversion. Perhaps too much time is spent with Robina on the road and on shopping expeditions and there are some sigh-worthy moments as her American followers attempt to get deep about her but there's enough intrigue in discovering Courtin for ourselves which carries it through. This is a respectable first documentary directed by family member Amiel Courtin-Wilson. It was made for television and looks like it, with some rough camerawork and lighting over-exposures giving it a harsh visual quality at times. Fortunately the energy of Courtin herself is sufficient to hold our interest and largely overcome the shortcomings."
Richard Kuipers

"In form, Chasing Buddha is a conventional TV documentary - financed by SBS, shot on video and running less than an hour. There's no special reason to see it on the big screen, but you could sit through a month of fiction films and not come across a character half as interesting as Robina Courtin - this tough, stocky, furiously energetic middle-aged woman, with her shaven head and horse laugh, who dreamt in her teens of being a martyr like St Teresa, who campaigned with the Black Panthers in the '60s before becoming a militant feminist, and who now travels the world as a Buddhist nun. Robina is obviously a 'difficult' woman, in the great tradition of Australian ratbags: fiercely independent, punishing to herself and others, always spoiling for a fight. But it's partly these qualities that make her so impressive - as we discover, especially, in the scenes that show her working with American prison inmates, some of them on Death Row. These scenes would be remarkable in any case, since it's not often we see condemned prisoners on screen at all, much less hear them talk about their spiritual lives. Still more remarkable is the sense that Robina genuinely respects, cares about and likes these people: she values (and recognises in herself) the kind of rampant, hard-to-tame energy that could lead someone to commit murder. Chasing Buddha is far from being an uncritical portrait of its subject: if anything, it's slightly too insistent about her neurotic side, as in the scenes where an obviously upset Robina repeatedly denies being lonely or frustrated. Yet it does leave you feeling you've met someone worth knowing - and perhaps challenges you to think again about what defines a well-adjusted person or a 'fulfilled' life."
Jake Wilson



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

SCENE CLIPS

CHASING BUDDHA (M)
(Aus)

DOCUMENTARY
DIRECTOR/WRITER: Amiel Courtin-Wilson

PRODUCER: Julie Stone

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Vincent Heimann

EDITOR: Bill Murphy

MUSIC: Dorian Jones, Alice Coltrane

RUNNING TIME: 52 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Julie Stone

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 28, 2000 in Sydney; September 7 in Melbourne

AWARDS:
Official Selection: 2000 Sundance Film Festival

Winner: Roubin Mamoulian Award 2000 Sydney Film Festival

Winner: Best Documentary Dendy Awards 2000 SFF

Nominated: Best Director, Documentary 2000 AFI Awards







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