Minding Shadows: On the Buddy System

September 2017 is drawing to a close. Since Venerable Sangharakkhita and I filmed in Uganda and Rwanda in June 2017, so much has happened. He’s been adrift on the high seas of immigration red tape in many countries, and I have been at home in Rome sweet Rome putting together our footage and planning for the next round of production in late October 2017. 

Jenn and Venerable S filming Minding Shadows interviews at Banana Village in Uganda. 

Jenn and Venerable S filming Minding Shadows interviews at Banana Village in Uganda. 

It’s not ideal to be finishing a PhD dissertation and working a demanding full-time job while pushing MINDING SHADOWS forward. So these days I’m strategizing with my wonderful Co-Producer Ermanno Martignetti to launch our fundraising and crowdfunding campaigns, and bring on some more collaborators and move the project closer to the center of our concentration. We’ve applied for some film funds and we’ll continue doing so for several months. I know the field is very competitive, but I think we have a story that sells itself. I believe in MINDING SHADOWS and its ability to impact lives with real wisdom and value. We’ve just got to get it out there. 

Jenn and Ermanno planning a political conference together in Berlin, Spring 2013

Jenn and Ermanno planning a political conference together in Berlin, Spring 2013

When I met Venerable Sangharakkita and read his story in his book “Drops of Dhamma” I was struck not only by the extremity of his experience, but by the strength and creativity he showed in his healing journey. Just being around him I felt a sense of charisma and intelligence that compelled me to propose a documentary film project.

Once production was underway in Africa, I was often inspired—and intimidated—by the responsibility I have undertaken in telling his story, and in explaining the Jungian “shadow work” healing method he teaches.

It is not often a documentary filmmaker comes across a complicated, charismatic character with such a dramatic story and such a powerful message of healing and resilience. Our filming process has not been easy and I have been disavowed of my romantic notions about life in Buddhist monasteries, as we have encountered religious politics, jealousies, sabotage, and bureaucratic red tape galore trying to capture the story of this remarkable, and now stateless, young man. It seems an ironic twist of fate that Olivier—now Sangha, as I call him—should endure so much hardship in his youth only to be subject to more of it once he takes monastic vows and tries to teach what he learned through experience and training. Through this film, we see that shadows and politics are part of human nature, inescapable even in a Buddhist monastery. We see that Buddhist vows can’t keep out the past or the ruthless demands of the world beyond the monastery. 

Minding Shadows cover smaller.jpg

When we set out on the journey of MINDING SHADOWS, it seemed like a pretty straightforward task to try and tell the story of how Venerable Sangharakkhita survived the Rwandan genocide and its violent aftermath, survived imprisonment and became ordained as a Buddhist monk. Little did I know! Life has a way of laughing at the best-laid plans. 

If nothing else, this documentary shows that the “shadow work” method of processing negative feelings and pain is important not only for traumatized war survivors, and for ordinary people, but also for Buddhist monks—indeed, for all people seeking psychological freedom and emotional maturity. The documentary also shows that even Buddhist monks are not free from petty community politics and power struggles, nor are they free from the increasingly strict systemic barriers to immigration and asylum seeking in today’s harsh political climate.

We continue filming this Fall 2017. We will journey with Venerable Sangharakkita as he teaches, seeks peace, and performs his own “shadow work” in various settings that I will share…when the time is right. 

It is my hope that he will soon be positioned to change lives in the way he is capable of doing. Sangha has endured a lot of difficulty and has so much to offer. MINDING SHADOWS can bring a lot to him and to his followers, and I hope to bring our vision to fruition.

The project is also changing my life and the way I approach documentary filmmaking. When we were filming in Rwanda, my interview subject Sinzi Tharcisse, a 6th degree black belt and genocide hero, said something to me that I’ll never forget:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, find others to travel with.”
— Sinzi Tharcisse, Rwanda
Jenn, Venerable, and Sinzi "go far" together in Rwanda

Jenn, Venerable, and Sinzi "go far" together in Rwanda


Sinzi's encouragement to collaborate has strengthened my determination to raise money to pay collaborators to make MINDING SHADOWS the best movie it can possibly be, with the greatest potential “reach.” I’ve always worked on my own because it was the surest way to get films finished. Since 2010 I have been working as a “one man band,” completing 7 documentaries and I’m in production on a 10-episode documentary miniseries. I handle development, production planning, filming, motion graphics, interviewing, editing and PR. I draw on my training as a playwright, anthropologist, journalist and editor to get my films finished and into the world. I’ve shown these films in my classrooms, at film festivals, and academic conferences.

I'm not bragging. I don't think it's a great idea--for lots of reasons--to try and do everything yourself. I had my reasons but many were fear-based: I was scared I wouldn't find people to work with, scared I couldn't raise money to pay them, scared the films wouldn't get finished. Yes, I finished a lot of charming and informative docs for basically no money...and all that hustle and grit has brought me to this moment. Working alone has a LOT of limits, not only in the quality of the final product, but also in its potential to get in front of as broad an audience as possible. 

MINDING SHADOWS is pushing me out of my "do it all myself" box and into the brave new world of slowing down and finding others to travel with. 

Jenn with Sarah McTeigue and Kiki Miller in Rome for Bellies Abroad (December 2016)

Jenn with Sarah McTeigue and Kiki Miller in Rome for Bellies Abroad (December 2016)

Now I’m ready to direct a team of talented creative professionals--among them editor Sarah McTeigue of So Fare Productions--to bring this film to life. I believe that MINDING SHADOWS can bring healing to its audience and I want to give it long legs.

The time has come to throw off the limits of working alone so I can honor the demands and responsibilities of a story like MINDING SHADOWS. Obviously, this takes a network of collaborators—which I have built in Rome and beyond—but it also takes more funding. 

In the next months we will run hard after that goal in order to make MINDING SHADOWS the best film it can possibly be.

I’ll chime in again when we have more news to share.