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BuddhaFest Offers Films, Talks and Peace

Why not attain enlightenment, find your sanctum of inner peace and shed the hardships of life’s exertions at D.C.’s first-ever Buddhism film festival this weekend?

That’s exactly what Buddha would want for you.

The brainchild of Gabriel Riera and Eric Forbis, two local Buddhist practitioners, BuddhaFest features 12 movies and several lectures and activities that center on the 2,500-year-old Buddhist teachings of peace, compassion and self-reflection.

Hosted at American University’s Katzen Arts Center, the four-day celebration begins today and runs through Sunday.

“You have to think that all beings are your mother,” a Buddhist nun says in “Blessings,” a documentary about 2,000 ordained Tibetan sisters that will be shown at the festival. “I am your mother; you are my mother. … We are all connected.”

Other film highlights include “Peace Is Every Step,” a short feature retelling the story of a Buddhist Vietnamese peace activist who “lived through war and fought back with meditation.” Another movie highlights the work of a prisoner-turned-Buddhist who fuses his punk culture into daily Buddhist practices while volunteering at prisons.

Nominated for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary and the recipient of more than 40 international recognitions, “Burma VJ” incorporates video footage of the September 2007 human rights crisis in Myanmar and the assault on the protesting Buddhist monks and civilians.

The festival lectures, led by American Buddhist monks and scholars, will focus on “how to cultivate an open heart,” Riera said. He said teachers won’t lecture the intricate details of Buddhist dogma but will give a basic overview on how the ancient teachings “come in contact with a hurried modern urban life.” One session will focus on embracing diversity; another will be a conversation about world peace.

Presumably there is a message for bipartisan cooperation buried in there as well.

Riera said most lectures include elements of meditation, where individuals will be asked to “focus inward on their individual stories and life situations.”

Most movies and lectures cost $9.95 and will be held in the center’s 213-seat recital hall. A few films will take place across campus at the Kay Spiritual Life Center. Tickets can be purchased at the door.

The festival also has several free events, including a screening of “Fire Under the Snow” — a documentary of the torture and jailing of Tibetan monks during the post-World War II Chinese invasion of Tibet — and a workshop on activism titled “Want to Be a Peacemaker? Start at Home.”

Riera, who pitched the idea to AU administrators only six months ago, believes the festival is relevant not only for Buddhist practitioners, but also for anyone interested in peace and inner reflection.

“We all want to live a better life, and learning to relax and breathe deeply are simple instructions that can be very informative,” he said. “In general, the festival will help people determine how they should act under the precepts of kindness, peace and self-awareness. … [Buddhist teachings] can help anyone find a way to deal with great loss, anxiety, addiction and the pains of life.”

Riera said D.C. has a large Buddhist population, with more than 30 Buddhist communities. He expects 1,000 participants, a mix of practitioners and curious newcomers, to attend the BuddhaFest.

Buy tickets, watch movie trailers and see a schedule of BuddhaFest events at

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