Student Stories from the Freer Sackler Teen Council Program


By Chelsea Kwak

When the leaves on the trees were splashed with shades of red and orange in October, I joined 14 other high school students from the D.C. area to create a film on Buddhism for the Freer|Sackler Teen Council. As someone who has always loved watching movies, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to help create a movie of my own. With the Asian Pacific American Film (APA Film) mentors as our guide, the Teen Council members decided to create two separate documentaries on two different Buddhist temples, the Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC) temple in Poolesville, Maryland and the Ekoji temple in Fairfax, Virginia. After much thought, I decided to take on the role of the Director of Photography (DP) for the KPC team. The fact that KPC has a 24-hour prayer vigil and is a Tibetan temple founded by Jetsunma, who is the first Western woman to be enthroned as a lineage holder in Tibetan Buddhism, stood out to the members of the KPC team. We could not wait to start filming.

As a part of team KPC, I have visited the temple twice so far. The first site visit involved introductions and a simple tour of the temple. Our team focused on seeking inspiration from the temple to create a general idea of our documentary’s theme. The weather served as a major obstacle for us during our first site visit as we were not able to film the stupa garden across the temple due to the extreme cold. Although we were not able to film everything we wanted, the first site visit served as a valuable learning experience as unexpected events can happen anytime on set.

The second visit consisted of three interviews that will serve as a major part of our film. As a team, we put a lot of effort into coming up with the interview questions by delving deep into different Buddhist beliefs, and we were able to acquire a lot of new knowledge. Moreover, some members grasped new skills such as how to apply makeup professionally for the camera with the help of our great mentors from APA Film. While I was a little overwhelmed by the immense responsibility of a DP on set, it was a pleasure to be able to capture the words and emotions of our interviewees on camera. I am so excited to share the film with everyone and I hope you will be able to join us at the APA Film Festival May 11th-13th at the Navy Memorial Theater!

DC APA Film Society