Short Cuts [1993]

You could call it a meeting or even a festival, but such words are entirely insufficient to describe the concept of Kumbh Mela. In Short Cut to Nirvana, Maurizio Benazzo and Nick Day take a loose, non-judgmental look at a gathering that has been taking place for over two millennia. As many as 70 million attended when they shot the film in 2001 (whittled down to 85 minutes from 3,500 hours of footage). The celebration takes place every 12 years, between the holy Indian rivers of the Ganges and the Yamuna. Even Mark Twain once made the trip. The documentary opens with his recollection of an 1895 Kumbh Mela: "Pilgrims plodded for months to get here, worn, poor, and hungry, but sustained by unwavering faith." Then there's His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, who has attended twice, the first time in the 1960s. He came to learn about other religions and to promote harmony between them. He makes it clear that he isn't there to convert anyone, but rather to learn. The film's unofficial guide is Swami Krishnanand, a Hindu monk, who translates the messages of various yogis, sadhus, and other spiritual figures. He is joined by a couple of open-minded Westerners, Dyan Summers and Justin Davis, who share their thoughts about the experience with the filmmakers. Short Cut to Nirvana is a lively, impressionistic introduction to a monumental event. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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