When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West

When the Iron Bird Flies: Tibetan Buddhism Arrives in the West

USA, 2012, 96 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Documentary, Religious
Language: English

Director Victress Hitchcock (Blessing: The Tsoknyi Nangchen Nuns of Tibet) traces the evolution of Buddhism from the isolated caves of Tibet to the bustling metropolises of the West. Since the Chinese forced the Dali Lama from his homeland in 1959, banned Buddhist practices, traditions, and spiritual teachings have managed to survive in unlikely new locations. More than 50 years later, Buddhist meditation centers thrive in every major city in the Western world. The Dalai Lama counts more than 5 million followers on Twitter. Does the future of Buddhism reside in the West?


As Buddhism experienced a seismic shift, teachers adapted and shared their wisdom in a variety of new languages. They established the College for Higher Tibetan Studies in India to translate ancient manuscripts. The Mind & Life Institute was established to extend the teachings of the Dalai Lama to other cultures. Both Eastern and Western scholars began to work with practitioners to teach the Four Noble Truths, while Western scientists studied brain change during meditation techniques.


When the Iron Bird Flies presents this astounding transformation through historic black- and-white footage of the Dalai Lama’s escape, testimonials from new practitioners, and interviews with famous and not-so-famous believers. Among the film’s Buddhist spokespersons are actor Richard Gere, teacher Chögyam Trungpa, founder of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, as well as Anam Thubten, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, HH Dalai Lama, Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Reggie Ray, Lama Tsultrim Allione, Elizabeth Mattis Namgyal and Fleet Maull. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, former drug smuggler Fleet Maull relates his story of finding peace through Buddhist meditation in a prison cell. The film also addresses male/female roles, and shows how a Buddhist nun broke through traditional barriers to become the first to receive her Geshe degree, an honor previously limited to male monks.


Hitchcock and her team traveled to Nepal, England, India, Mexico, and the United States to make this inspirational film.


- JOEY PORCELLI

In cooperation with Naropa University, the Iliff School of Theology, The Dharma Ocean Foundation

Sponsored by:



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DIRECTOR: Victress Hitchcock
Producer: Victress Hitchcock, Amber Bemak
Editor: Catherine Hollander
Cinematographer: Pablo Bryant, Sasha Dorje Meyerowitz
Principal Cast: Anam Thubten, B Alan Wallace, Choegyal Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, HH Dalai Lama, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

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