After walking 17 four-to-twelve-year-old kids over a 17,500 foot pass from one of the most remote places on earth to a Buddhist monastery, Frederick Marx is coming home to Chicago to lead us on a journey toward the place in our hearts that'll help these children finish their education.
Marx - now fifteen years removed from his star turn as the writer/producer who brought us the story of two black Chicago high school students who thought they had a shot at being pro basketball players in the critically acclaimed documentary Hoop Dreams - is again giving us the opportunity to study how people sacrifice in order to gain.
In The Journey from Zanskar, Marx chronicles the passage of a small band of children who were delivered by two Dalai Lama-dispatched monks from their remote village to a monastery where they'll get the opportunity to learn their own language, culture, history, and religion.
The kids' voyage away from family and to a life of study is critical because a new road will soon bring the outside world to Zanskar - the last remaining original Tibetan Buddhist society with a continuous untainted lineage dating back thousands of years - endangering its traditions and religious practices. It's the sort of decimation that has already happened to many other Tibetan towns experiencing this version of gentrification.
Marx was drawn in by this slow, quiet drama.
"What really interests me as a filmmaker is the landscape of the human heart," Marx told me from his San Francisco home last week as he prepared the "preview cut" he'll be screening at Primitive Gallery on June 26 and 27. "I'm so interested in heartbreak, in what people do, how they feel, what they think, and why they do what they do. Then when you throw all the layers of cultural differences and socio-economic realities, they're just such amazing stories."
Marx started out on his own journey toward emotional and financial investment in these 17 kids when an old friend from Chicago called him up and asked if he'd be interested in a gig to go to Zanskar and film the monks for a group of people putting together a non-profit to support their work.
After Marx' incredible expedition - "when, after climbing 14,000 to 17,000 feet to get over the pass, none of the animals could carry us I just thought 'I'm going to die today,'" he chuckled - the non-profit failed to take off, but Marx took the project upon himself.
"I said, 'this is crazy, we have to do what we can to help these monks, these kids, and this school.' So I took it over and it's been my company's project ever since," Marx said. His company, Los Angeles-based Warrior Productions, is a non-profit, and his commitment to the 17 children whose story he tells in The Journey from Zanskar is 100% of the revenues - above the cost of production - the films garners.
Those pesky "cost of production" dollars are what brings him back home to the welcoming embrace of Chicago's Primitive Gallery for an exclusive set of intimate screenings of this unfinished film in one of the holiest spaces I've ever visited.
"In terms of cash dollars, we only need about two hundred grand to get through the post production and then it's all gravy," Marx said. "Then all the profits from the film will be funneled back to Zanskar for the monks and the kids."
Marx will be at the Friday screening at Primitive, 130 N. Jefferson, but if you can make it to the Saturday screening, Michael Fitzpatrick, the film's composer, and Chicago's own Harold Ramis (on a break from promoting the new Ghostbusters game) will gather with Marx in the breathtaking "Buddha Room" to watch the film.
"What you'll see is this amazing example of service, of these monks doing what they can for these children, for these families and for the culture of this place they call home," Marx said. "To me there is no grater modeling of leadership than how they sacrifice and risk their own lives to help these families get a leg up."
"These monks demonstrate that the greatest joy in life just might come in doing what you can for others, and that's the key message I hope people will respond to."
Esther J. Cepeda writes about making the world a better place, and much more, on www.600words.com. Watch YouTube clips of The Journey from Zanskar here or call Primitive at 312/575-9600 for more information on attending either the June 26 or 27 screening.