(director: Amiel Courtin-Wilson; cinematographer: Vincent Heimann; editor: Bill Murray; music: Dorian Jones; cast: Robina Courtin; Runtime: 54; SBS Independent; 2000)

“…it would have been good to let more daylight in about the teachings of Buddhism.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A short documentary about a dynamic and aggressive head shaven 53-year-old Catholic born Australian, Robina Courtin, who has been a Tibetan Buddhist nun in America for the last twenty years. It is directed with passion, love, and devotion by Amiel Courtin-Wilson — Robina is his aunt.

Robina speaks her mind and is not afraid to use flowery language, as she openly lets the viewer see her without any disguises and how she arrived at this path. She dated blacks as a young lady in the 1960s, was always outspoken, and left Australia in 1967 to live in London and New York for eight years. Robina got involved with hippies and then became radicalized and joined the black and feminist revolutions. When helping someone move a car, it accidentally ran over her foot and a friend suggested she go to a Buddhist retreat for rest.

There Robina found what was missing from her life and studied with a Tibetan lama until she became a nun. She learned how to control her crazy energy, and learned that she previously blamed everyone else but herself for the faults of society. Buddhism made her look inside herself for the truth, and helped her realize her potential and not to waste her time trying to change the outside world.

Robina is the editor of a Buddhist magazine called Mandala, and teaches the dharma at the center she lives in and her teachings also take her across the country. Not withdrawn from society, Robina goes to restaurants and sometimes to the movies with friends. Through interviews with friends and family members, we trace her life and forceful personality. Robina even brings up that she hated her father as a girl because of his sexual tendencies (though he never had sex with her) toward her and her sisters. She corresponded with him until he died in 1969 as a lonely man, and she expresses compassion for him.

The most exciting part of the film is her visit to a Kentucky prison, where she counsels some hardened Death Row inmates and gets them to express their thoughts and feelings. Robina relates best to them because she feels their pain and their need for some light and warmth, and is never afraid of being with these murderers.

As a quick look at Robina’s life it doesn’t ask any hard reporter questions, as we are instead treated to a rare individual who found what she is looking for in life and is happy to share this with others. But we don’t really know her as well as we could have if the filmmaker could have been less in awe of his subject and more focused in probing her thoughts. On the surface level this is a fine looking character study of an unusual woman, but it would have been good to let more daylight in about the teachings of Buddhism.