Metro Weekly

Spiritual Cinema

Locals launch first BuddhaFest film festival

Lately, all the buzz about Buddha in the District of Columbia has belonged to Buddha Bar, the überhip restaurant/lounge chain of the jetseteratti, welcoming Washington into its cool embrace last month with a new outpost in Mount Vernon Triangle.

But that was May. In June, the buzz goes to BuddhaFest, D.C.’s first Buddhist film festival, running June 17 to 20.

“There seems to be a huge desire for Buddha-themed films,” says Gabriel Riera, one of the two gay men responsible for pulling together this three day festival of film — but also meditation, speakers and Tibetan food. Riera and co-director Eric Forbis gained their unique insight into Washingtonians’ jones for Buddha fare after organizing a film screening at American University tied to the Dalai Lama’s 2009 visit.

If that screening was the spark, BuddhaFest is the bonfire. The full schedule includes a dozen films, ranging from the Dhamma Brothers documentary of Buddhist teachings in a maximum security prison in Alabama, to the highly acclaimed Cherry Blossoms drama.

Queer locals may be particularly interested in Saturday’s talk and meditation with Soto Zen Priest Ryumon H.G. Baldoquin who will explore issues of diversity in Buddhism, with a special focus on members of the LGBT community and people of color.

“Everybody can find something at BuddhaFest, no matter what religion you are,” assures Riera, who was raised Catholic, and now identifies as a Buddhist, though not in a very strict sense. “The basic principles are of kindness, self-awareness and compassion toward all living things.”

And if you can make it to Sunday’s Tibetan dinner, Riera advises that the traditional “momo” dumplings are a must.’

For a full schedule of BuddhaFest events, most of which take place at the Katzen Arts Center on the American University campus, or to purchase tickets, visit

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.