In 2003, two intrepid monks, fulfilling their Buddhist vows to end all suffering, decided to help 14 young children from Zanskari villages so poor they lacked running water, sewers, electricity, education, grass and trees. As recounted in “Journey From Zanskar,” they took the youngsters and their parents to a Tibetan school in distant Manali to improve the kids’ chances and keep their traditions alive. The trek proved a logistical nightmare but a documentarian’s delight, full of suspense, vivid dangers, strong personalities and energetic tots. Surprisingly entertaining pic bows Sept. 23 in Gotham and seems destined for a PBS or cable airing.All possible routes out of Zanskar posed major perils, forcing the journeyers to cross several high passes while contending with falling rocks, skidding horses, recalcitrant yaks and temperatures well below zero, only to be forced to retreat. Plan B, involving a different itinerary in an unheated bus, turned out more successfully, as the future students and their parents are shown marveling over modern civilization and the greenness of trees. Directed by Frederick Marx, writer-editor of “Hoop Dreams,” pic is narrated by Buddhist advocate Richard Gere, thankfully eschewing sentimentality.
A Warrior Films production. Produced, directed, written by Frederick Marx.
Camera (color, HD), Nick Sherman; editors, Joanna Kiernan, Marx; music, Michael Fitzpatrick, Adam Schiff. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Sept. 20, 2011. Running time: 90 MIN.
Geshe Lobsang Yonten, Lobsang Dhamchoe, the Dalai Lama. Narrator: Richard Gere. (Zanskari, Tibetan, Hindi, English dialogue)