Unmistaken Child directed by Nati Baratz is the magical 4-year journey of a young Tibetan monk named Tenzin Zopa seeking to find his previous master’s reincarnate. It is a true-to-life documentary, following an outcome of events and is both intriguing and beautiful. The young monk ‘eventually presents the child he believes to be his master’s reincarnate to the Dalai Lama so that he can make the final decision.’ For more about the ending one will have to see the film! It is an emotional piece but the director prefers for audiences to feel their own way about it whether it is ‘beguiling, surprising, touching, or even humorous’. The film is stunningly shot with views of the Himalayas and misty Tibetan mountain-side villages. A culture and spirituality is deeply captured and delivered through the breathless filmmaking of the director and cinematographers.
Written about the film: ‘While Unmistaken Child’ brings to light a rarely seen aspect of the Buddhist faith, the true revelation is the journey of Tenzin the man. Modest, shy, but with a delightfully impish sense of humor, we come to know a man who appears to be of another time and place and yet is profoundly living in the present. Alone on his quest, he is only able to share his thoughts an feelings with filmmaker Baratz and his simple honesty and unselfconsciousness make the viewer a privileged partner in Tenzin’s passage to the next phase of his remarkable life.’
ASIANCE: Right before you made this film, what were you doing in your life of filmmaking?
Nati Baratz: Yeah, actually my story is different because I graduated form University and worked as a freelancer, waiting for the right moment. And during that time I just made two or three films to keep me in shape. So it was nothing important and then I wanted to find something in Asia to make a documentary, a feature film. I had started another movie about Orthodox Jews in Israel seeking a hidden Jewish-Tibetan tribe. Because of this film I went to research Nepal and gave up that film and started this one.
ASIANCE: There are so many magical moments in the story. It is hard to describe if one has not seen the film but with the child Tenzin and all the knowledge he seemed to have of his ‘previous life’ or the reincarnated mind of the older monk, there are so many parts that seem to be moments of miracle and everyone around him is so touched. Were there any other moments that you did not put in the film?
Nati Baratz: Yes actually I had over 200 hours of footage. You know, it was 5 and-a-half years of filmmaking. And there were a lot of magical moments. I don’t know where to start. The most touching moment with the child Tenzin we could not even put in because the cameraman started to cry. Tenzin had a dream of a little child who was shaking something and asking, ‘Where is my conch?’ The story in the dream was that he was lost in Taiwan and asking where his conch was. It was very extreme and he was asking ‘why did you take it, where is my conch?’ So it was a very traumatic dream. And I even asked him to draw the child in the dream. He went to the child and gave him the big conch and the child just took him by the ears and did like this (bows) and everyone began to cry and the cameraman began to cry… this was just one example. There was another magical moment where they gave Tenzin many things and he did not want to take them and said to offer them to the Dalai Lama picture, ‘not to me’. There was also a lot of politics that weren’t in the movie. There was a Western girl who had been dominated, but some said she was a reincarnate.
ASIANCE: There are many bittersweet parts and it is obviously a very spiritual film. What did you wish for audiences to take away from the film, mainly?
Nati Baratz: I worked only one year to edit this film. So what I really wanted to show, I showed in the film. It is meant for audiences to contemplate and just think about the experience. There are moments where the child is a normal child and then when he is magical. It makes one confused. I guess it’s out of the ordinary and also the cost of the movie. This is also the concept of the movie; Buddha once told people not to believe just anything but must check everything themselves. I am not Buddhist, myself, you know. But after all this, I did want the audience to give it a chance and it’s more than just a story of reincarnation.
ASIANCE: The music in the film is very enchanting. Can you talk about your choice in the often sweet, sometimes ominous mood of it and how it fits the film?
Nati Baratz: I am a musician. Cyril Morin is a great composer. The music was written professionally for this film. I wanted the music to be a bridge to Westerners. It uses cello and it is a mixture. We used a lot of instruments mixed with cello and I wanted it to be coordinated. It was not easy but the music was very communicative. It was sometimes happy, sometimes sad. It was very emotional.
ASIANCE: When you were filming for 5 ½ years was it hard to be away from you family? Or did they come with you?
Nati Baratz: Yeah, it was very hard. I just can’t imagine having filmed without them. My two-year old daughter and wife moved to India to be closer to filming. It was very hard and in the monastery, the men and women are separate. Many times I would not see them for two weeks but they had a great time in the monastery. My daughter played with the reincarnate, so they were just living with him. It was a great experience for them too. A once in a lifetime experience.