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Director Mark Elliott and YANGSI
“Ultimately YANGSI was a real affirmation of the goodness of human nature and how it can be made manifest.” – Mark Elliott
Mark Elliott has been making Buddhist films for over 30 years. YANGSI culminates this effort and is his most accessible and far-reaching work to date. Mark’s interest in his subject matter is personal; he is a Buddhist practitioner. Yet as a filmmaker, he seeks to identify the universal human elements within his subject’s spiritual surrounding, in this case, the Yangsi’s unique circumstances as a reincarnated lama.
To accomplish this aim, Mark’s chosen mode by which to tell the story is cinema verité: we watch a progression of sequences that span Yangsi’s life from age four to eighteen. Yet, the diegetic framework established by Mr. Elliott’s editorial choices, and a first-person narration by the Yangsi himself, creates the true semantic building blocks of the film. Through these Mark skillfully frames the Yangsi’s doubts and questions, trials and foibles, against his role as a spiritual leader of a particular tradition and the training this role involves. Put another way, the aspects of the Yangsi’s life that any viewer would find familiar, relevant and honestly human, contrast with his training and the responsibilities and expectations of his formal title. Because the Yangsi is understood as a reincarnation, and therefore to have an advanced propensity for the spiritual, for compassion, insight and awakening — the potentiality of human life — to witness the other side of the coin in parallel (his doubts and questions) addresses the central tension of the film’s subject matter: how to be spiritual in a mundane context? And to what degree is the mundane the platform for transcendence?
This question might be said to be at the crux of spiritual films, if they are to be relevant to a broader modern audience than simply the devoted or affiliated. In that light, YANGSI can be considered Mark’s most significant work as a filmmaker. In it he effectively bridges the gap between the spiritual and the mundane in an unassuming and endearing manner.