ALU: Khyentse, The Cup is - in my view - a subtly political film. Did you mean
it to be?
KN: I didn’t have that strong political motivation, but the story is set in an exiled
Tibetan monastery, so I almost can't avoid mentioning politics a little bit. And I wanted
to tone it down with a little humour.
ALU: But you did in fact make it in secret; can you tell us a bit about that?
KN: Two things, actually: one difficulty was that I am seen as a Buddhist teacher
and for many people in that part of the world, they think film is always something to do
with sex and violence. (all laugh) I cannot really blame them…because that's the only
sort of films they get to see. So when they hear that a Buddhist Lama is making a film in
a monastery, they think it's something . . . strange. So that's one reason I wanted to do
it 'quietly'. The second reason - and I guess I can now reveal it - is that to get a
proper permit to shoot this film in India would take two or three incarnations, probably
(all laugh). So we took a chance and smuggled all the equipment in.
ALU: Raymond Steiner, can I ask you what were the challenges from a producer's
point of view?
RS: Well, it was more of a challenge for Paul (Warren, cinematographer) here. The gear was
lugged across difficult terrain and they got caught in a monsoon - so it all arrived 10
days into the shoot.
ALU: Your insurers must been very sanguine about all that !? (all laugh)
RS: It can all be revealed now (all laugh): it was guerilla film making and we had no
ALU: How did you meet Khyentse and why did you undertake this film?
RS: I actually met him as an 18 year old student of philosophy and I was doing some
children's films in India at the time. Khyentse always had a fascination for photography .
. and we stayed friends, and so it was a natural progression.
ALU: The Cup is based on real events - was it something that happened to you
that was the trigger?
KN: Actually the desire to make films came to me after seeing films in London by
such filmmakers as Satyajit Ray - I thought, I could do something like this and felt
inspired by that. From then on there was a strong desire to make a film and I started to
write stories. I actually made two not worthwhile to mention short films, with Paul
here….. that taught me a lot. That was in 1984 in Australia, and I stayed here for
ALU: Which explains, perhaps, why the crew on The Cup were Australian and the
post production was done here. How, if at all, has the making of the film impacted on your
community? Have they seen it?
KN: Now some of them have seen it, yes - and now they realise that it makes sense. Because
when we shot, the script was in English because we had to raise funds…and also,
Tibetans never had the tradition of writing scripts in Tibetan. I mean I can't possibly
write KITCHEN - INTERIOR - NIGHT in Tibetan! (all laugh)
ALU: Well then how did you work that with the actors….?
KN: I just told them on the spot, this is the line you have to say and this is
your mood. That's all; none of them knew the story. They vaguely knew it was about
football and a famous event that happened … football itself is not strange to them.
There was an incident three World Cups ago like that in the film . . . when I was in a
disciplinary role in the same region and discovered some young monks sneaked out….
and next morning I had to explain to the older monks what football is! They can't
understand the concept of 20 nations gathered over there . . about a ball!
ALU: You certainly managed to elicit some terrific performances from your
inexperienced cast . . .
KN: I must say, my actors saved my film - a lot (all laugh)!
ALU: Just touching on the cinematography, Paul - it's a naturalistic look . . .
but what was the most important thing for you in delivering Khyentse's vision?
PW: The most important thing for me was to know the script intimately. It was written in
English but spoken in Tibetan which I don't understand. So the ruling thing was to let the
script breathe - to have its time and space. And to find the frames to allow the
performances and performers to inhabit that frame. And it's a real functioning monastery;
we didn't have the power and back up to dress it - the restrictions were what determined
what we had. And I die a thousand deaths every time I see it! (all laugh)
ALU: Well, the film has been very well received critically - it's now about to
open in Australia; where else, Raymond?
RS: It's been sold to US and England and all the European countries, Japan . . . and it's
in 24th week in Germany already. But it's an arthouse film and in the US they
don't like reading subtitles, but it's still doing very well. Everyone has got their money
back and they're happy.
ALU: And at that point, let's segue into the next question for Khyentse: what
will be your next film?
KN: I don't know . . . I have some vague ideas but nothing firm as yet.
ALU: But there will be one?
KN: Yes….but not necessarily about monastic life.