A divinely inspired gift for those devoted to Buddhism, preservation and/or a free Tibet, “Digital Dharma” is also an affectionate tribute to the late E. Gene Smith, the scholar, librarian and ex-Mormon who waged a 50-year struggle to save the endangered texts of Tibetan Buddhism. Dafna Yachin’s specialty docu is richly informative, not only about Smith’s life and his place in the troubled history of Tibet, but also about the intersection of ancient work and new technologies. Fest and educational circuits will benefit, as will such venues as New York’s Buddhist-centric Rubin Museum.
Yachin’s prime achievement lies in making several knotty concepts not just palatable but engrossing, including the thorny history of Tibet under Chinese subjugation and the meaning of expansive texts to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism (there is no single volume, like the Bible or Koran). The docu also delves into what advances in technology have meant to preservationists, who can scan untranslated content and condense thousands of pages (one lama, wearing a flash drive around his neck, calls it his “amulet”). Smith, who died before the film was completed, provides a wise, gentle and knowing presence throughout.