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Thich Nhat Hanh Documentary 'Walk With Me' Out This Month in Global Theaters

Walk With Me is a new documentary centered on Vietnamese Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh. The feature, spanning one hour and twenty-eight minutes, focuses on Hanh's three years of monastic life between rural France and a speaking tour in the US.

Originally screened at SXSW this past March, it has been described as “a meditation on a community grappling with existential questions and the everyday routine of monastic life.” The soothing baritone of Benedict Cumberbatch, who shares a love of Buddhist philosophies, contributes to the film’s calming effects.

Acclaimed director Alejandro Iñárritu said in an interview with Variety: “I loved how [the filmmakers] capture and convey, cinematically, the sometimes inexplicable state of being awakened. It gives a hint of that quiet voice so underrated today and ironically so needed in this time of fear and ignorance.”

Despite the beautiful imagery and content, the film left something to be desired for some viewers. Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times was disappointed in the film’s lack of background information on Hanh’s life. “Instead, we’re dipped in and out of random rituals and events (including a 2011 teaching tour) without benefit of dates, locations or explanations,” she wrote. “Sometimes dreamy but mostly dissatisfying, Walk With Me offers no clarity for the curious.”

However, it seems that this was largely the point. Director Mark J. Francis wrote in a statement: “Traditionally most films use a few characters with clear narrative arcs, but to make this film we had to abandon these conventions because Thich Nhat Hanh didn’t want to be singled out or idolized in any way.”

Francis also said that he spent weeks at Hanh's monastery practicing mindfulness before a single scene was shot. Cameras were only brought out once mutual trust and respect had been established. “Ultimately,” he said in the statement, “we wanted to find a cinematic language that could transmit to the audience our own personal experience in the monastery so it could feel like a meditation in itself.”

Affectionately called Thay (teacher in Vietnamese) by his students, Thich Nhat Hanh was born Nguyen Xuan Bao in Hue in 1926. He was ordained in 1949, and in 1960 he relocated to the US to teach comparative religions at Princeton University in New Jersey. Due to his criticisms of the war in Vietnam, he was exiled from his home country for many years. During this time, he co-founded the monastery Plum Village in France, the central location of the film.

Walk With Me will be widely released globally this fall. However, it's unclear as of the time of writing if followers of Thay in Vietnam will be able to enjoy the feature in local cinemas.

[Photo via Variety]

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