Transcript Subheader


Copyright 2008 Soulful Media
Creating Buddhas: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas

(Transcript Pages 1-6 of 20 pages total)

for complete transcript send an email to the filmmaker


Synopsis and theme:
Creating Buddhas is a story of a western woman named Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo who became a fabric thangka maker. Leslie is able to help continue Tibetan culture through her devotional work and in turn is empowered by it. Leslie is a western woman who can transmit fabric thangka to our culture; in the sense that she stepped into a male tradition, she becomes like Tara and through her we see fabric thangka through feminine eyes.


Visual: Giant Thangka rolled up and being carried by monks.
Narration: Fabric thangka is so rare that in some places it is only seen once every twelve years for a few hours. For this special occasion, it often takes up to three hundred monks to carry one thangka that weighs several hundred pounds.


Visual: Giant Thangka rolled up and being carried by monks.
Powell 10 “The visualized aspect of the thangka is a vast aid to understanding Buddhism.”


Visual: Giant Thangka.
Lower Third Title: China Galland, Author and Tara Scholar
China 18: “In order to even have the idea that one can be enlightened, one needs to see someone who has been enlightened.”


Visual: Detail of Leslie working on nearly finished Green Tara Thangka. Montage of
            detail and medium shots from different angles.
Lower Third Title: Prema Dasara, Founder, Mandala Dance of 21 Praises of Tara
Prema 8: “If we want to manifest wisdom and compassion in this world, if we want to fulfill the potential of our human opportunity we need inspiration, we need support. And that is what a being such as Tara represents.”


Visual: (Title) “Creating Buddhas: The Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas”
                        a film by Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost
Audio: Music


Visual: Interview setting
Lower Third Title: China Galland, Author and Tara Scholar
China 19: “There is a female Buddha in Tibetan Buddhism and her name is Tara. And that’s all I knew. And that fragment of her story was enough to save my life.”


Visual: Fabric thangka imagery
Audio: music

Visual: Interview setting
Lower Third Title: Prema Dasara, Founder, Mandala Dance of 21 Praises of Tara
Prema 10: “The lama had said to me, Tai Situ Rinpoche, he said… ‘This is not about Goddess worship. This is not about worship. So you have to understand that what you have in your hands is a tool for enlightened mind. And that is so necessary. It is so extraordinary. You can’t find that easily. You can’t find your way there, but you have a way there.”


Visual: Production shot, Tara shot
Narration: Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is a fabric thangka maker whose spiritual practice and life’s work are her tools for awakening. This film follows Leslie’s life-changing journey of discovering fabric thangka, her apprenticeship in Dharmasala, India, and the step-by-step process of producing a fabric thangka of Green Tara, a female Buddha.  In this film we see the history and spiritual importance of fabric thangkas and Green Tara in Tibetan Buddhism.


Visual: Tilt of silhouetted people looking at a large fabric thangka
Narration: Thangka is a Tibetan word meaning something that rolls up. Many know thangkas as paintings, but there is another traditional form called Fabric Thangka, or more commonly Appliqué Thangka or Brocade Thangka.

Visual: Interview setting with cutaway to zoom in on Guru Rinpoche
Lower Third Title: Glenn Mullin, Tibetologist
Glenn Mullin 16: “For more than 1500 years now Tibet has played a major role in influencing the art of half of Asia.”


Visual: Older fabric thangka
Narration: Appliqué and embroidery techniques date to prehistoric times throughout Asia, but the tradition of fabric thangka as a spiritual communicator began in Tibet as a Vajrayana Buddhist form of artistic practice. One of the earliest examples of fabric thangka for a public ceremony was a giant image of Buddha Shakyamuni commissioned by Lama Gendun Trupa, the first Dalai Lama, in 1468.


Visual: Interview setting with cutaways to ‘Green Buddha’ shots--old fabric thangka.
Lower Third Title: Valrae Reynolds, Curator, The Newark Museum
Valrae_1_2 “This was the first firm evidence in Tibet that religious pictures were being made out of appliqué. What we assume is that earlier, perhaps in the 13th or 14th century, they were being made on a smaller scale.”


Visual: Interview Setting
Lower Third Title: Glenn Mullin, Tibetologist
Glenn Mullin 5: “It was especially popular with Lamas who would travel and give teachings and initiations in remote places. Glenn Mullin 6: "Smaller appliqué thangka were very often used for that purpose.”


Visual: Appliqué Thangka
Narration: Throughout history, images have acted as messengers of spiritual traditions. There is no doubt that thangka, being the most portable form of Buddhist art, aided the spread of Buddhism to Tibet, China, Japan, and other Asian cultures.


Visual: Appliqué Thangka Imagery
Narration: Sacred images help us understand ourselves. They function as a medium of connection to enlightened beings. Fabric thangkas are teaching tools that are used for contemplation and meditation. They are also an object to which to make offerings and are found in outdoor ceremonies and teachings, interior altars, temples, and personal ritual spaces. Fabric thangkas range in size from approximately 2 feet to 200 feet tall.


Visual: Leslie working—production shot
Narration: Because fabric thangkas take months and sometimes years of full-time work to produce becoming a fabric thangka maker required a total devotion to the lifestyle.  Leslie has embraced the tradition and challenges with love, patience, and enthusiasm.


Visual: Interview setting
Lower Third Title: Gayle Curtis Jones, Fabric Thangka Historian
Gayle 1_16: “There is no question that this kind of activity goes hand in hand with the spiritual development. It is a perfect vehicle for it.”


Visual: Interview setting
Lower Third Title: Suzie McKig, Collector of Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo’s work
Suzie 3: “Because an entire practice was done while the piece is being created that just by itself makes it more spiritual. I mean she is actually giving and receiving a teaching inside the production of the thangka.”


Visual: Montage of photos of Leslie and studio shots
Narration: Trained in Dharamsala, India for nine years, Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is one of the few female fabric thangka masters in world and one of the only ones who reside in the west. She currently lives and works half the year in Los Angeles, CA and half the year in Milan, Italy.


Visual: Interview setting with cutaways to fabric thangkas
Lower Third Title: Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, Fabric Thangka maker
Leslie 3_8 “They are so meaningful to me. And also the fact that others value them so highly.  So that I can actually provide something that is of value to others. Leslie 3_5 I am carrying forth a gift that came to me from the Tibetans.”


Visual: studio shots
Robert Thurman 10: “It is a secular profession. People think that they are all Lamas, but they are usually not. They are usually lay people.”


Visual: Guru Rinpoche tilt and interview setting
Lower Third Title: Suzie McKig, Collector of Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo’s work
Suzie 1: “Even though she is western and we hold a lot of ideas about how certain products should only come from a Tibetan community, but through her diligence and her apprenticeship there, she truly took on all the skills.”


Visual: Interview setting
Lower Third Title: Glenn Mullin, Tibetologist
Glenn Mullin 17: “There is no doubt that they will be very happy to see a westerner study the art and hopefully master the art.”


Visual: Interview setting
Lower Third Title: Kunga Nyima, Son of  Former Tailor to HHDL
Kunga 11: “She does make a really good appliqué thangka.”


Visual: Interview setting
Lower Third Title: China Galland, Author and Tara Scholar
China 14: “Well I had never seen a fabric thangka until I saw Leslie’s work. China 15: I just stood there. Having sewn a little bit myself, but in awe of the phenomenal kind of craftsmanship, artistry, and devotion, and patience that I knew it took to create entire thangkas out of fabric.”


Visual: Scrolling tilt of drawing for fabric thangka and details shots
Narration: Historically, fabric thangka makers have relied upon thangka painters to create the proportioned drawings and to pay special attention to the amount and type of detail appropriate for fabric work. However, Leslie sometimes makes her own drawings following the prescribed scriptural properties that a thangka painter would use.


Visual: Interview setting with lower third. Cutaways to shots showing proportions, elongated Tara face, and ‘good’ finished green Tara thangka face.
Lower Third Title: Robert Thurman, Ph.D. Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies, Columbia Univeristy.
Robert Thurman 9:  “Most western people who do thangkas the faces tend to get a little more elongated. And they look a little funny to the Tibetans. However, if she studied with a real master and knows the geometry and the proportions. If she is careful with the features of the Green Tara then…people will like it. There will be no… I think prejudice against her because she is western.”


Visual: Fabric thangka imagery
Audio: New Frontiers by Bruce Becvar

Visual: tilt of fabric thangka details, interview setting with lower third, detail images of Tara drawing showing proportions
Lower Third Title: Robert Thurman Ph.D. Professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies, Columbia Univeristy.
Robert Thurman 8: “The Tibetans believe that when you see an image of an enlightened being it plants a seed in your unconscious of an image of what that would be like. So if you make an enlightened being that it not according to the prescribed geometry, with the symmetry and beauty of such a being, then you are planting a seed in someone’s consciousness where when they get to be a Buddha they might be ……(gesture) a little like this…scrunched up.”
Visual: Tilt and details shots of drawings
Narration: In fabric thangka production, two copies of the drawing are created for different steps in the process: a tracing paper copy and a fabric copy. The tracing paper copy is used when the drawing is transferred to the cloth. The fabric copy is used when assembling pieces of silk. When both of the drawing templates are complete, the next stage is to select the fabrics.


Visual: Shot of fabrics
Narration: Fabric thangkas are generally created using pure silk fabrics, gold threads, and other precious embellishments. To this day, the materials used in fabric thangkas are expensive commodities.


Visual: Fabrics and images of Green Tara, White Tara, Manjusri, and Medicine Buddha.
Lower Third Title: Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo, Fabric Thangka maker
Leslie interview 2_1_5 “I have a variety of fabrics that I have purchased and collected over time. So I get them all out and I start with the color of the deity’s body. If it’s Green Tara it is of course a green. If it’s a white Tara, white. If it’s a Manjusri, it’s a golden color. Or a Medicine Buddha, its blue. So first I have to choose the color of the main figure and then around that I start to put together the robes and the flowers and implements that the deity is holding.”


Visual: Stabilization production shots
Narration: Once the fabrics are chosen each fabric needs to be stabilized to make it stiffer to work with when doing the couching and embroidery work. To stabilize the fabric, Leslie applies a mixture of methylcellulose and acrylic gel medium to the back of the cloth. Through experimentation, she developed this mixture because the methods previously used in Tibet were not practical in India or the West.


Visual: Interview setting
Leslie interview 1.5_1_4 “Sometimes I have been more traditional and gone back to tradition and sometimes I have found new ways to do things…things that are available in the west and the modern world that were not available in the villages of Tibet.”


Visual: Interview setting
Leslie interview 1.5_1_4 “Traditionally, they smeared raw meat on the back of the cloth. It probably worked perfectly well in the cold, high, dry climate of Tibet, but in India where it’s hot and humid and there are a lot of flies, it was not so appropriate. I remember times when I was working in the workshop with Dorjee Wangdu, where I would be stitching some very delicate tiny little stitches and my hands would be covered with flies.”


Visual: Three fabric thangkas
Audio: The Road to Tulku’s Palace by Inkalesh


Visual: Interview setting
Leslie interview 1_1_3 “ I love working with fabric. I have always loved. I love touching fabric. I love the feel of it. I like the way light shines off it. I like putting colors together.”


Visual: Still images of Leslie
Narration: While Leslie’s love of fabric would soon draw her into a new profession, she was trained as an Urban Planner at the University of California-Los Angeles.  She began her career working in housing and community development in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to her job, she volunteered with the local Tibetan community and would soon develop a deep connection to the Tibetan culture.


For more please email the filmmaker, Isadora Gabrielle Leidenfrost