Dhamma Dana Award winning documentary

Filmmaker Theodore Martland recently won the Queens International Film Festival with his documentary Dhamma Dana which was entirely shot in Burma. Theodore had the chance of a lifetime making this film, delving deep into the Golden Land's monastic tradition and revealing how the Burmese Buddhists find their inner freedom.

The film presents the Dhamma with a serene rhythm; documenting a powerfully peaceful ancient tradition that few experience first hand. Shedding new and positive light on the Burmese people, audiences around the world can discover a unique perspective and an enchanting tale of a culturally rich society.

Interview with Theodore Martland

Iain: How did you prepare for this documentary?

Theodore: Preparation for Dhamma Dana The Gift of Dhamma began with getting into Myanmar (Burma) with a professional video camera. This required a fairly extensive visa application and a personal meeting with the Burmese Ambassador's second secretary in India, Khin Aye Kyi Than. After filing a detailed itinerary with the Burmese government and applying to the Burmese Ministry of Religious Affairs for official documents in multiple languages, I was approved for a 26 day visit in order to make a documentary about Burmese Buddhism.

Dhamma Dana Trailer

Iain: What was it like filming in Myanmar (Burma)?

Theodore: Burma is a magical place. At first, I was very trigger happy, filming every stupa and monk or nun that I saw. However after a couple days, I realized golden stupas and pagodas are as abundant as Starbucks are in the US, and 1 in 20 Burmese people are a monk or nun. Traveling with Burmese natives (meditation master U'Hla Myint and Sister Molini, who you'll see in the film) afforded me access to spiritual sites and experts that would have otherwise not been accessible as a general Western visitor. The itinerary I drafted was incredibly thorough; I wanted to get to every major location possible in 26 days. I relied on the generosity of monasteries and mediation centers for housing and meals. They would never deny us a place to sleep, even if they had to put us on hard wood floors in the former abbots residence. Traveling on open-air trains and the roofs of buses was an exciting part of the adventure and the abundance of spirituality (90% Buddhist) lights the country up from the inside. It truly is The Golden Land.

Iain: What made you take this journey?

Theodore: The whole journey that this adventure in Burma was part of blossomed out of a quest for truth. As a philosophy student in Virginia I was persistently pursuing truth, and not just idealistic musings about it, I wanted real practical truth, ways to experience it in this very life. So when I was living in a Burmese monastery in Bodh Gaya, India as part of a study abroad program, Sister Molini, a Burmese nun and social worker, approached me. Noticing my camera, she asked if I would be interested in helping her tell the story of Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar (Burma). She's been trying to add Burmese Buddhism to media in the public sphere, particularly the Western one, for years.

Iain: Has this documentary given you a different perspective on life?

Theodore: Yes. Dhamma Dana is a token of the mind altering experience that defined my journey to the East. The film allows me to keep the chord of that experience vibrating not only for myself but also for the audience it reaches. Watching the documentary is a great way to go to Burma, see an ancient spiritual tradition persevering in modern times, and learn practical ways of experiencing happiness and truth from a culture unlike any other.

Iain: Do you have other films in pre-production?

Theodore: I actually have a film in post-production. The film, tentatively titled Wandering Mind, is the first hand documentation of my experience traveling to India and living in a Buddhist monastery. It captures the transformations of the mind that take place when practicing extensive meditation in a place that is laden with explicit poverty and physical suffering. It will also show HOW that transformation of the mind takes place by incorporating teachings from the Buddhist masters (most notably Thich Nhat Hanh) that I was fortunate enough to film giving lectures. The feature film should be released early 2010.

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