The Sacred Sites of the Dalai Lamas: A Pilgrimage to The Oracle Lake is a 70 minute collection of home movies of a 2007 trip to Tibet dressed up as a feature documentary. There is some wonderful footage of the Tibetan countryside and numerous sacred sites, including temples, mountains, caves, and lakes. If you've never been to Tibet and know nothing about it, this film might serve as a good visual introduction to the culture and the landscape. The rest of us are left to wonder if the project was simply a clever means for recovering the expenses of what looks to be a rather financially substantial pilgrimage.
The film is narrated in flat, almost dispassionate tones by Steve Dancz, an American music professor, who along with a group of what appears to be around 15 other middle-aged Americans is led across Tibet by American Buddhist teacher Glenn Mullin and Bhutanese religious scholar Khenpo Tashi. Along the way Dancz relates the rather typical tourist reaction of wonder and surprise at being in Tibet, as well as reporting historical and contemporary spiritual claims of supernatural events. Most anyone who has traveled in the region has had similar reactions, and who when visiting a place for only a few hours, or even a few moments, is going to risk insulting the locals by asking if they really believe that walking around a pile of rock reciting a mantra has the power to affect meteorological conditions? Most of us just try to soak up the experience.
But if you are inclined to produce a commercial document of your visit, one that you want to share with the world, one that has the potential to inform and help people understand the relevance of your pilgrimage, it seems such a document is the appropriate occasion for questioning, for examining your experience, for evaluating the meaning of your journey. Perhaps for Dancz there was no need to question, in which case The Sacred Sites of the Dalai Lamas is an example of what you see is what you get. I'd like to think there's more going on, that Dancz was on deadline to finish the film, that perhaps producer Michael Wiese forced him to excise the more interesting observations, and that a more introspective book or film may be forthcoming
For anyone who might be looking for a video document of Tibetan landscapes and scared sites, this is a film worth checking out. For anyone hoping to learn about the Dalai Lamas, about Buddhism, about the meaning of pilgrimage, about the experience of ambition fulfilled, you would do better to look elsewhere.