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A new documentary film by Donagh Coleman

Reception 6-6:30
Film starts promptly at 6:30pm (91 min.)
discussion with Donagh Coleman after the film

This event is not taking reservations, and is first come first serve for seating. Doors open at 6pm.

In what Tibetans call tukdam, deceased meditators show no signs of death for days or weeks. Juxtaposing ground-breaking scientific research and Tibetan perspectives, this creative documentary challenges our notions of life and death, and where we draw the line between them. 

We tend to think of death as something clear-cut, and that medical science has it neatly figured out. This feature documentary explodes such assumptions through its exploration of a phenomenon that blurs life and death to an unprecedented degree. In what Tibetan Buddhists call tukdam, advanced meditators die in a consciously controlled manner in meditation. Though dead according to our biomedical standards, they often stay sitting upright in meditation posture; remarkably, their bodies remain fresh and lifelike, without signs of decay for days, sometimes weeks after clinical death. The film follows the first ever scientific research into tukdam by neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s team, juxtaposed with intimate death stories of tukdam meditators and Tibetan understandings of the death process – which include ideas about consciousness and the mind-body connection that are very different to those of mainstream science. Unfolding in cinematic dialogue between scientific and Tibetan perspectives, the film unravels our certainties about life and death, and shows how differently death can be construed in different cultural contexts. In this encounter between worlds, the scientists' methods and views are challenged by a civilization where death has been a central preoccupation for centuries.

Finnish-Irish-American filmmaker Donagh Coleman holds degrees in Philosophy and Psychology and Music and Media Technologies from Trinity College Dublin, and a MA in Asian Studies from UC Berkeley. Previous award-winning films with wide international festival and TV exposure include A Gesar Bard's Tale (2013) and Stone Pastures (2008). Donagh's films have also been shown at museums such as MoMA and the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, and by the European Commission. Besides films and TV-docs, Donagh directs radio documentaries for the Finnish and Irish national broadcasters. His Radio Feature Gesar! was Finland’s entry for the 2012 Prix Italia competition, and his feature Do I Exist? was Finland’s entry for the 2015 Prix Europa competition. Donagh has also worked as a TV journalist and presenter for the Finnish broadcaster YLE News. He is currently doing a PhD in medical anthropology at UC Berkeley, continuing the research conducted for his 2022 feature documentary on meditative Tibetan Buddhist tukdam deaths.

Co-Sponsored by the Renee Crown Institute and the Tibet Himalaya Initiative

  • Manan Dhanteja
  • Luke Stumpfl
  • Marni Ratzel
  • Anel Villalobos

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