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Film Review: My Reincarnation

my reincarnation
My Reincarnation

Directed by Jennifer Fox
Premieres June 21, 2012 on PBS

While the conflict between a father’s expectations and his son’s desires is a story as old as the hills, Jennifer Fox has managed to capture a unique twist on that experience with her documentary film My Reincarnation, which kicks off the 25th season of POV on PBS.

Like most ambitious children, Italian-born Yeshi Silvano Namkhai has plans for his life. He likes playing music and taking photographs. He has a knack for computers. He wants to be a father.

But Yeshi’s father, exiled Tibetan Buddhist Master Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, believes that Yeshi is the reincarnation of his great-uncle, Khyentse Rinpoche Chökyi Wangchug— a revered Tibetan Buddhist Master who died in a Chinese prison.

For Namkhai Norbu, the path is clear: maintain the ancient spiritual and cultural traditions of Tibet through service to the Tibetan Buddhist community. But Italian-born Yeshi views the responsibility as an unwanted burden even though he acknowledges having the special dreams associated with being reincarnated. “I’m not afraid of dying, but I’m afraid of living,” Yeshi says as he struggles to reconcile his desire to be a “normal” Westerner with his father's hope that he will embrace his destiny.

Fox’s film is compelling because it isn’t just a snapshot. Filmed over 20 years, we’re introduced to Yeshi as a defiant 18-year-old intent on pursuing the life he wants, and we follow him through adulthood as he evolves into the man he’s become. In that same time frame, we also see the seeds for Yeshi’s strained relationship with his father, and how both men work to better know and understand each other. Despite its unique circumstances, My Reincarnation is remarkably accessible for anyone who has tried to balance their own desires with the expectations of a parent.