The Unwinking Gaze is perhaps the most honest and genuine film about the Dalai Lama likely to be released in his lifetime. Using a simple documentary style eschewing voice-overs, the filmmaker presents the highlights of three years worth of film with a focus on the exiled Tibetan leader's political life, revealing a principled but human figure struggling to stand firm against tides of ignorance, fear and hate.
While the title refers to the subject's determination in the face of Chinese prevarication and provocation, it might also refer to the filmmaker's resoluteness in exposing the Dalai Lama. According to director Joshua Dugdale, a former BBC producer, the film was conceived as a political tool, a chance to show to Chinese decision makers, and to the Chinese public, the unfiltered, unedited Dalai Lama, to show that there is no "clique" intent on "splitting the motherland," only a deeply spiritual man trying to carve out some space in the Chinese People's Republic for the preservation and growth of Tibetan culture.
For a little over an hour the camera follows the Dalai Lama as he meets with world leaders, is debriefed by envoys returned from meetings with the Chinese government, speaks to a large public audience in Canada, tours Bodhgaya, and greets Tibetan refugees newly arrived in the Dalai Lama's exile home of Dharamsala, India. Along the way, when opportunity permits, Dugdale intercedes with questions. Do you ever have any doubt? Never, says the Dalai Lama. None. Will you ever change your position against the use of violence in the struggle for Tibetan freedom? He again answers never. His adamance is something of a surprise from from a leader of a spiritual tradition in which practitioners are encouraged to give up attachment, attachment to things as well as to ideas. The Dalai Lama, it appears, still has a few of his own, a stubborn old man who in his unwinking implacability comes across all the more lovable, all the more deeply human. Asked what it means to be a monk, he answers that as long as one aspires to practice spirituality sincerely, being a monk is nothing more than a matter of changing clothes.