Daughters of Dolma takes the viewer on an extraordinary journey into the Tibetan mountains to meet some of the young women who have devoted their lives to understanding Buddhist teachings.
Through observing their daily practices and discussions on the differences between monks and nuns and what it means to be a ‘modern nun’, the film creates a discourse on what it means to live as a nun today.
Hungarian-born writer-director Adam Miklos and his small team travel deep into the Kathmandu Valley, where they visit two nunneries and are introduced to some of the resident nuns, including Ani Jangchup and Ani Pema. It’s striking to note how ‘normal’ their lives are – how Ani Jangchup supports Manchester United and Ani Pema loves horror movies and listening to Michael Jackson.
We’re told that a lot of the nuns now have Facebook, and most of them own mobile phones. While shopping with Ani Pema she picks out a dvd of Eat, Pray, Love and boasts of seeing the film and reading the book. Any preconceptions the audience have about the lives of nuns – that they pray all day, that they’re melancholy or constantly lost in spiritual reverie – are soon dashed by this revealing and insightful portrait.
Despite their shaved heads and red gowns, you could be fooled into thinking these were just regular young women and forget all that they have sacrificed. However, Ani Jangchup assures us that this is the most valid path she could take, saying: “I didn’t want to waste my life being a wife or a mother.” Their lifetime dedication is shown in their commitment to studying for the Lopon, a nine-year degree equal to an M.A.
In showing Tibetan Buddhism from distinctly female perspective, the viewer gains an understanding about the gender inequalities that are present in the faith – ultimately, monks are able to achieve a higher seat, although it is mostly agreed that nuns and monks are considered equals. Allowing space for discussion of these differences shows how the gender gap is still present in a faith widely considered to balance inequality.
Daughters of Dolma manages to humanise a marginalised group of women seldom seen on screen, to dispel taboo and to shed light on their fascinating lives. It’s a rare joy to be introduced to such warm and charming personalities and one opportunity not to be missed in this beautifully observed film.