Saturday, 6 February 2010


This is a story of an event that happened several years ago, back in October 2001. I related the story to a friend recently and he thought I should blog it. So here goes.

First of all you need to know a little background to the person in the story. His name is the Venerable Bagdro, and he is a Tibetan monk living in exile in Dharamsala India. He fled there in 1991, escaping severe torture and persecution at the hands of the Chinese authorities.

I first met Bagdro in February 2000, and, after hearing his story, I asked him if he would like to record it on video. We spent the next week doing just so. On my return to the UK later that year I decided to edit the interview, and I started to call around for photographs of Tibet, or any newsreel footage that I could use. One such organisation was Amnesty International.
It just so happened that they had been the key force that had been influential in securing Bagdro's release from Drapchi prison in Tibet in 1991, but they hadn't heard of him since. And here I had him on video! So they were very helpful, and the finished film, called A Hell On Earth, went on to be shown at various festivals in far off places such as Vancouver and Melbourne.

It was this one film which made me decide to launch a career in the film industry. I had worked in advertising many years before, and this brought my creative urges back to the surface again.

So that's the background, here's the story:

In spring 2001 I damaged my spine, which almost crippled me. After waiting an eternity for tests and scans, I was finally scheduled to have an operation in March 2002. However, the severe pain process had many negative effects on me, one of which was to give up on my film career dream.
In October 2001, fed up and miserable, I decided I need a change of scene and booked a two week holiday on the west coast of Canada.

It was at this point that Pauline, my best friend, suggested that maybe what I needed to do was to return to India and meet up with Bagdro again to try and recapture the moment. But, stubbornly, my mind was made up, and I headed for Vancouver.

I'd been there about a week, pottering about, taking a trip to Jasper at one point and returning by train. I then took a ferry across to Vancouver Island and the capital, Victoria.

After a few days sightseeing, in quite some pain, I took a train, and then a bus, out to the west coast, about half way up, to a small town called Tofino. It was pouring down, and I was still in a great deal of pain as I walked. Feeling sorry for myself, I went for a walk and passed a small coffee shop. I had a double take at a poster in the window. And walked toward the poster and on closer inspection . . . it was a picture of Bagdro!

Reading the poster I discovered that someone from Victoria was conducting a tour where she would tell audiences all about him. The tour was starting in about two weeks, and I would be back in the UK by then. I spent the rest of the day trying to contact her.
Finally, at the end of the day, I made contact. This is how the conversation went:
"Hi, sorry to bother you, but I am in Tofino and noticed you're doing a lecture tour all about a monk called Bagdro. Well, a couple of years ago I made a film called a Hell On Earth, all about him..."
She interrupted.
"You must be Graham Kitchener"
I was lost for words. Maybe she had seen the film. That was it.
"Yes, I am. Well, I was thinking that on my return to the UK I could mail you a copy of the film, A Hell On Earth, and that way people would get to see him and hear him on your tour"
"Oh, I can do better than that Graham. He's stood right beside me!"

He came on the phone, and we talked, and I cried. The following day, by thumbing a lift, catching a bus, then a train and finally a taxi, I made my way to a Japanese restaurant in Sydney, not far from Victoria, where we met up. We laughed, took photos and he placed the traditional Tibetan white scarf, a khatag (pronounced: katah) around my neck, while saying the traditional Tibetan good luck blessing, "Tashi Delek".

I recalled what Pauline had said about going to India to meet him, and how, stubbornly, I had stuck to my plan to go to Canada. And there, in one of the most remote places in that country, Tofino, I make contact with him and we meet again during a sponsored visit of his to relate his story to a wider audience.

It still amazes me, and all those I tell the story to.
It was that one single event that made me continue to strive for a career in film making, and here I am, nine years later, doing just that. Three years after meeting up with him in Canada, as a direct result of the film, I was to become the Dalai Lama's official film director for a visit to Scotland.

All thanks to that chance meeting in Canada.


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