A Little Wisdom

Young monastic life in the heart of the Buddha’s birthplace

A Little Wisdom 5-year old Hopakuli is lazy, cheeky and forever disobeying his elders. He is one of the young, orphaned monks living in the isolated Tibetan monastery of Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of the Buddha. As Hopakuli and his brother Chorten learn to endure the rigours of monastic life with their fellow orphans, they find escape in the power of their imaginations, the rough and tumble of their boyhood a constant challenge to the regimented religious environment they call home. Beautifully crafted, this stylish documentary is an intimate immersion into the universal truths of youth.

Nestled in the heart of the birthplace of the Buddha lies an isolated monastery. Novice monks, some as young as five, live and grow up here immersed in the ways of Buddhism. Despite their austere surroundings, they are still obviously children – there is no shortage of silly jokes, foul language and boisterous playfighting.

Hopakuli is the youngest, but he doesn’t let this stand in his way. “I’ve done it all and heard it all”, he declares proudly. His blustering extends to his self-proclaimed tree-climbing prowess. “This is way too easy for me”, he boasts. “Only if you guys had my army training, you would be able to climb like me.” It is only when he makes the mistake of looking down from his lofty perch that his self-assurance drains away. “You said that you were a hero”, another boy gloats. “Now you’re just a zero. Hopakuli is chicken!”

Hopakuli has grand aspirations – but they are rather at odds with his monastic upbringing. “I will get a job and I will be brilliant at it”, he foresees. “I will work very hard and make a lot of money. I will have to store it in the bank. I'll have so much money the Bank of Nepal won't be able to hold it.”

Hopakuli’s elder brother Chorten also resides at the monastery. The boys get on in the unique way of siblings, quick to fight and argue but quicker to protect. “My brother is a friend to me but I get mad at him sometimes. I have much love toward him”, says Chorten. The two brothers have no other biological family. “Our father passed away in an accident during the rainy season. He was hit by lightning. I don't know anything about our mother, she visited me maybe once. I have never heard from her since. I enjoy living in the monastery more than my house anyway. I want to become a great monk.”

The arrival of a rogue langur, apparently intent on causing as much chaos as possible, brings a rare episode of excitement and peril for the novices. “Everybody take cover!” one boy shouts. “Monkey alert, monkey alert! Go to hell! He's coming this way, run, run!” The peaceful ambience is broken for a while as the reprobate primate is ushered from the premises.

Vija, one of the eldest novices, has doubts about where his path lies. “In life some get happiness and some just get sorrow”, he reflects. “There is a saying in Tibetan: Bad luck will follow the ones who cast off the monk’s robe. I am about to turn 15 now. Sometimes I feel trapped between two roads. I am confused about my future.”

This reflective documentary charts the day-to-day life of the novices within the monastery, gently shedding light on the juxtaposition of religious doctrine against the natural unruliness of the boys, and muses upon where their futures might lie.

Reviews and More

A Little Wisdom (2017) on IMDb

This absorbing cinematic film... welcomes us into a world that we never thought a mischievous child could reveal.” – Best Canadian Feature Hotdocs 2018

Kang has made a film that’s rich in its appreciation of the vagaries of life” – POV Magazine

"the enchanting mix of arresting visuals... discover meaning within the ordinary" – Hammer to Nail

For a Q&A with director Yuqi Kang, see here.

LaurelBUSAN International Film Festival - Official Selection
LaurelSXSW Film Design Awards - Excellence in Poster Design
LaurelHot Docs - Best Canadian Feature
LaurelCAAMFEST San Francisco - Official Selection
LaurelAsia Pacific Screen Awards - Official Selection
LaurelKarlovy Vary International Film Festival - Official Selection

The Producers

Yuqi Kang - Director

Yuqi was born in Inner Mongolia, China. Growing up as an ethnic minority in China, art became the medium through which Yuqi began to confront and articulate her lived experience. Upon graduating from NY School of Arts, she was awarded the Paula Rhodes Award for Exceptional Achievement in Social Documentary Film. Through her work she explores the questions of representation, human experience and cultural translation. A Little Wisdom is Yuqi's feature directorial debut.

Maro Chermayeff - Producer

Maro is a partner in the Emmy and Peabody award-winning company Show of Force, and Founder of the MFA program in social documentary at the School of Visual Arts. Her many films and series (Marina Abramovic, The Artist is Present) have received numerous awards and have toured the world in festivals, including Sundance, SXSW, and Berlin. Her feature docs have broadcast widely - from PBS and HBO to Arte and the BBC - garnering significant critical acclaim.

Alan Berliner - Story Consultant

Alan Berliner's uncanny ability to combine experimental cinema, artistic purpose, and popular appeal in compelling film essays has made him one of America's most acclaimed independent filmmakers. Berliner's experimental documentary films, First Cousin Once Removed (2013), Wide Awake (2006), The Sweetest Sound (2001) and others have been broadcast all over the world, receiving awards, prizes and retrospectives at many major international film festivals.

Making The Film

For as long as I can remember, I have been using drawing as a medium to explore the world surrounding me. I believe my background in drawing gave rise to my filmmaking practice as the combination of visual and sound parallels the use of a paintbrush on canvas. Both mediums involve not only a great deal of observation but also improvisation. As a practicing Buddhist, I attempt to embody the Buddha's teachings, and I apply it to my own process whether in filmmaking or drawing. The artistic intention of A Little Wisdom is recreating the emotional connection I had with the subject for the audience. Therefore, we try to avoid forced sentimentality by not using music or set up interviews to push the narrative forward. Instead, I utilize visuals, sounds, and hidden symbols to convey the mood, the sense of reality and the emotional connections.

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