Directed and Produced by Jennifer Fox
The feature length documentary, MY REINCARNATION, follows the renowned reincarnate Tibetan spiritual master, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, as he struggles to save his spiritual tradition, and his Italian born son, Yeshi, who stubbornly refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps.
When Namkhai Norbu Rimpoche escaped Tibet in 1959, he settled in Italy, where he married and had two children, of which Yeshi was the first. Yeshi was recognized as the reincarnation of Rinpoche’s uncle, a famous Dzogchen master, who died after the Chinese invaded Tibet. Yeshi grew up in Italy and never wanted to have anything to do with this legacy. He didn’t want to be a Teacher like his father, nor did he want to return to Tibet and the monastery of Rinpoche’s uncle, to meet the students waiting for him since his birth – something that his father continually admonished him to do. Instead, he dreamed of a normal life, away from the hoards of devoted students that always surrounded his father.
Through intimate scenes we see a young man grow from 18 years old to 39 years old and maturity; and a father who begins the story in his 50 year-old prime turns to 70 years and old age. As the story unravels what is at stake is Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche’s spiritual tradition; for Yeshi it is his own identity. Will Yeshi’s Western lifestyle replace his family tradition and his spiritual roots? Will his father succeed at transplanting the vanishing Tibetan heritage to the Western world? The stories of both the father and the son combine to make MY REINCARNATION a universal drama that taps into the classic narrative of family and inheritance. As time moves forward, both father and son begin to change, giving the film the scope and depth of great fiction.
MY REINCARNATION builds its narrative through a creative weave of archival film, still photographs, and over 1,000 hours of footage shot from 1988 to 2009: intimate cinema verite scenes with never-before-seen access to a high Tibetan Teacher and his family. In addition, the interviews done with Namkhai Norbu and Yeshi over twenty years provide a second text that is married to scenes to give insight and conflict, revealing the changing characters. The image of water and swimming, Namkhai Norbu’s beloved pastime, is used as a repetitive thematic pillar through the film and a representation of his teachings of integration and emptiness. The natural sounds of chanting and song, combined with added effects and carefully scored music, is used to express a non-verbal sense of the spiritual world Norbu Rimpoche seeks to transmit to his son — and to the West.
MY REINCARNATION has been made through a unique co-production with the Dutch Buddhist Broadcasting Foundation, ZDF-ARTE, Swiss TV, YLE-1 Finland and Italy and is pre-sold to POV, the premiere documentary series on American Public Television.