Released in June from Oscilloscope Distribution, the documentary “Unmistaken Child” by Jerusalem-born Nati Baratz, a graduate of Tel-Aviv University’s Film School, continues its triumphal march across America, with scheduled screenings in Honolulu (Sept. 9); Cleveland (Sept. 11); Great Barrington, MA (Sept. 11); Key West (Sept. 11); and San Francisco (Sept. 13), and further showings into the winter.
Patiently filmed over five and a half years, “Unmistaken Child” tells the story of a search for the reincarnation of an eminent, recently dead Tibetan master by his disciple, who had been his companion since the age of seven. With a notably spare style and absence of narration, the film expresses the emotional clarity of the disciple, Tenzin Zopa, as he searches through tiny Tibetan villages. While there is plenty here to please JuBus, the film does not over-idealize its subject, and when the reincarnation is found in the form of a pudgy little boy, he howls with outrage when his head is ritually shaved, and shows less than reverent respect when presented to the Dalai Lama.
Baratz, who previously directed two documentary shorts, “Tel Aviv-Kyrgyzstan” (2001) and “Noches”(2004), first went to Nepal to research a film on a group of Orthodox Jews who are seeking a hidden Jewish tribe in Tibet. There he met Tenzin Zopa and, after asking permissions, was allowed to film a record of the quest for the reincarnation. Although not stated explicitly, the Tibetan approach of nonviolence (when possible) and loving their enemies powerfully captured the imagination of Baratz, himself born in a region where quite different approaches are more often the rule.