The Zen of Filmmaking: A Balance of Heart & Mind

by Xuan Vu © 2006

Chapter I: Beginning the Journey

:: Academic Preparation

:: Internship Experience

Where is God? In the brain? In the mind? In the greater cosmos? These were the central questions with which I entered the University Professors Program in the fall of 2004. I joined this interdisciplinary program with the intention to investigate the concept of God from a psychological and neuroscientific perspective as well as through cultural phenomena; such as religious rituals, beliefs, and organizations; so as to provide a comprehensive biological and cultural explanation for the existence of God in one’s mind. My vision was to present the discoveries of my inquiry through the visual medium of educational documentary film.

Academic Preparation

I began my investigation by taking a course in Christian thought as well as one in cognitive neuroscience. Having been raised a devout Catholic for 18 years only to renounce my faith after leaving home for college, I approached these classes with the perspective of an agnostic seeking to find a scientific understanding of the biological and psychological underpinnings of religion. My long-term goal was to make educational documentary programs, such as those on the Discovery Channel, that reveal to the mass public the discrepancies between the beliefs that Catholics claim they possess and the actual extent of their devotion to their tradition.

The pessimism and insignificance of such an endeavor dawned on me the next semester when I took three classes that changed my outlook on religion and spirituality. The first of these, “Magic, Science, and Religion,” taught me that these three categories, which those living in modern society tend to separate so distinctly, had only become differentiated after the Enlightenment period. Before this period, the three realms of magic, science, and religion were considered compatible worldviews. In fact, they were not distinguished as different ways of understanding, but rather worked together in harmony to provide individuals with a comprehensive wealth of knowledge. Therefore, in our modern age, these three only represent different epistemologies; they all have the same goal: understanding ourselves as human beings and the universe at large.

The second class was a seminar on modernity, which I took as part of my core curriculum requirements. Far from feeling like a mandatory course for fulfilling UNI credits, this class enabled me to delve into a topic with which I had always been fascinated: the origins of Greek philosophy. Through extensive library research on the history of the first Greek philosopher, Thales, and the relations that Greece had with other countries; particularly with Persia, India, Babylonia, and Assyria; I found that the revolutionary significance of Thales’ theory that water is the fundamental element of the universe was most likely derived from either Indian or Babylonian monistic influences. The following is an excerpt about the Indian influences on Thales from my essay:

…Thales’ identity as the first Greek philosopher stems from his landmark proposal that the primary element of the universe is water, qualifying him as a materialistic monist. In this sense, Thales was “asserting that everything is One because everything is made of the same kind of underlying matter, which somehow has the ability to change its surface qualities and appear variously.”(1)

Thales’ philosophy has been shown to parallel Indian thought in striking ways. His departure from the traditional mythological conceptions of the world, which relied upon concrete explanatory stories of the origins of different things, served to elevate his system to a more symbolic realm: “Thales has, in effect, taken two mythological motifs—the primal ocean and the livingness of nature—and broken them loose from their mythological contexts, leaving them in a state of isolation that serves to make them semiabstract.”(2) According to Dr. Thomas McEvilley, Professor of Greek and Indian Culture as well as History of Religion and Philosophy at Rice University, this abstract quality of Thales’ theory lends itself to the argument that ancient Indian thought was a major influence on Thales.

One similarity that McEvilley draws between the two philosophies centers on the Rig Veda, which is the oldest text of the sacred Vedas. In it is presented the earliest form of monism in the history of Indian religion, “involv[ing] the elevation to a universal stature of single deities who corresponded to the material substances that would later be defined as the elements.”(3) In one of its hymns, the Indian god of fire, Agni, is extolled as the ultimate being, equivalent to all of the other gods combined: “You, O Agni, are Indra, you are Visnu…You, O Agni, are King Varuna...”(4) McEvilley contends that the transcendent quality of the god of fire that encompasses all of the other gods is comparable to the abstraction of Thales’ worldview.

Another source of comparison in the Rig Veda is based on one of the late singers of the hymns, by the name of Prajapati Paramestin, whose idea of the origin of the universe is the same as that of Thales: “In the beginning…an undistinguished ocean was this all…The mighty waters moved, pregnant with the world as embryo.”(5) The designation of water as the primary element of the universe is also expressed in the “Chandogya Upanishad,” in which is written, “It is just water…that assumes different forms of this earth, this atmosphere, this sky…Water is indeed all these forms.”(6) The monistic elements in these passages are indistinguishable from that of Thales, lending further credence to McEvilley’s argument for an influential effect of the ancient Indians on Thales.(7)

Thales’ belief in a universal essence distinguished him from any previous Greek thinker and instigated the longstanding tradition of Greek philosophy. It is ironic to think that the foundation of Western philosophy may lie in an ancient concept from the East.
At the same time, I took an independent study with my academic advisor, Professor Anthony Barrand, as a more personalized version of his course entitled “The Psychology of Extrasensory Perception and Psychic Phenomena.” Throughout this course, I kept a weekly journal of my thoughts on the reading material and information presented during my meetings with Professor Barrand. The following passages clearly trace my gradual change in perspective over the course of the semester:

January 18, 2004

…That was how my worldview was shaped and that’s how I approached everything that came my way: with my eyes set on the future, knowing that every little decision that I made in the present would affect my future in very dramatic ways. I became obsessed with time, thinking that there was so little time to do all the things necessary to ensure the future that I had envisioned for myself based on what I thought my parents expected of me. I knew I had to be rich, educated, successful—pretty much an exceptional human being—in order to fulfill these expectations. As a result, I was not the most pleasant person to be around…

Then came what I call The 180. My mom told me she was so proud of me. That she could not ask any more from me. That I had exceeded her every wish and desire. That I should be proud of myself, too, and not be so hard on myself. That I should not make such a big deal out of every little shortcoming that might arise. That things will always work themselves out in the end, and that all she wanted for me was to be content in every moment of my life. Well, I thought, as my brain processed this last bit of information, why didn’t you say so from the beginning?! I could’ve saved myself a lot of pain and anxiety if I had just known that not everything I did would result in me being labeled a failure. I could’ve avoided many a headache and falling out with friends if I had known that the time that life gives us to live is meant for us to enjoy and not to slave away for a chance to make the future potentially enjoyable. But I guess I’m only 20, and I guess that it’s never too late, and I guess that having had such a limited view now allows me to appreciate everything even more than I would if I had not had it in the first place.(8)

February 9, 2004

…in order to convince a “scientific-minded” person that this dowsing method actually worked, the “streambed” that was supposedly found should be verified, either from one’s own efforts to dig up the earth or from building plans that showed where water could be found…I should’ve asked for more conclusive evidence than simply the fact that the rods had moved for me. After much thought, I think…that there should be some kind of proof to show that my dowsing did actually locate a source of water… I’ve seen the rods move for me. I know that I myself am not willingly moving the rods. I know that I feel the rods moving themselves, almost as though there’s some magnetic force in between them, pulling them towards each other. I know all this, yet there is still something inside of me saying that in order to truly believe that it works, it has to prove that it works. How am I to use a method that is supposed to help me locate something without having actually located the thing itself?(9)

February 17, 2004

…I understand that the point of these exercises is to get me to realize that there are other ways of knowing or perceiving the world around us besides the scientific method or through experience, but I don’t see the point of dowsing for things that I already know, such as the gender of a person. When I did try to dowse for things I don’t know, such as whether or not I will get an A on my paper or on the two upcoming exams that I have, and got a “yes” answer, I was/am skeptical about this result. Even if this does end up to be true (which I hope it does!), I think I will remain skeptical of the actual effectiveness of this way of knowing.(10)

March 12, 2004

…Even though I am a scientific-minded person (who can help it, growing up in a scientific-oriented society such as ours?), I do consider myself a rather spiritual person. I spend much of my time and energy contemplating the significance of the transcendent and its manifestations in my life in my efforts to define what I actually believe and don’t believe. For this reason, I took to [Joseph Chilton] Pearce’s very biological, natural concept of the spiritual developmental process immediately [in Magical Child Matures] because it offered a scientific approach to explaining something so beyond the grasp of Western science and society. The more I discover about Eastern philosophy and thought, the less inclined I am towards Western ways of dealing with the transcendent. [Also] I am beginning to relate to Pearce’s anti-American cultural attitude more and more. I see what he means by our reliance on technology as a way of keeping us in the physical realm and preventing us from attaining autonomy, personal power, and integrity…

Because of my Catholic background and consequent reliance on science to explain everything, I had equated Jesus, for the past year, with a charlatan who was able to fool His followers into believing that He could actually perform miracles. After watching The Passion of the Christ last week, I now see Him in a new light. I no longer doubt His faith. How could one explain the pain and torture Jesus went through if He honestly did not believe that there was a purpose for His suffering? I believe now that Jesus was a prophet or an enlightened person of some kind, who did in fact have God within Him (“Son of God” is simply skewed terminology in my opinion) and advocated a personal relationship with God. He believed that one could reach God in secret through prayer in one’s own closet by oneself, as opposed to the Pharisees’ public demonstration of their “faith.” By gaining knowledge about oneself through such personal endeavors, one becomes closer to God. To know oneself is to know God because the more one knows oneself, the more one knows what is right for oneself, be it actions or thoughts, and such knowledge leads to God…

[Within the past year, I have] noticed that the less I [try] to create memories as they [are] happening and just let things happen, the more I [enjoy] the experiences themselves. I [have] realize[d] that living in the moment [is] what [is] intended for us, and that the human mind’s construct of time, as employed by corporate nations such as America, has severely diminished the enjoyment factor in our lives. Someone once quoted to me that “God/the Good exists outside of time”…God manifests God’s self to us at each moment. In my own experience, God has made God’s self known to me through such realizations and then confirmations of my development or maturation, such as through this book, which has solidified the notion of “the here and now” for me.(11)

March 28, 2004

…my suspicion that there is more to the universe than what the long tradition of Newtonian mechanics admits is becoming ever more validated. The parallels that I find between my own educational development and that of mankind’s are, in my opinion, kind of bazaar. By this, I mean that only a year ago, I strictly adhered to Newtonian mechanics. I believed in biological determinism: that our genetics define who we are, the way we behave, how we interact with the things around us (and the social/physical environment only played about a 5% role in allowing for variations of these). I remember feeling sure and on top of the world with this kind of mentality, knowing that everything about humans could be explained by physical qualities, that the mind was just a by-product of the influences of nature vs. nurture elements on the brain. Hence my interest in how religion, a cultural phenomenon, affects the brain, and [consequently] mind, and how it came about as a result of biological, evolutionary forces acting on our brains to make us gravitate towards thinking in terms of religion/philosophy. To think of religion, or the theory of a transcendent reality, as a mere by-product of biological and social conditions is like saying that such a transcendent reality isn’t “real,” [that] it isn’t actually a part of the external physical universe that is separate from us…empirical and knowable. That’s like saying that our minds aren’t real.

But I don’t think that such a claim can be successfully defended by anyone. Our minds are as real to us as the transcendent reality is to a Buddhist monk or any other spiritual or religious person. The fact that we can’t necessarily measure the existence of them does not in any way invalidate their existence. If the transcendent reality is simply a construct of the human mind, then…all humans are capable of reaching such a realm, regardless of whether or not it actually physically exists. Upon arriving at such a conclusion, my former attitude of certainty became one that was awestruck and infused with excitement. Knowing that there was so much out there that I had yet to know about and the possibility of me not being able to ever truly understand “reality” as an objective thing was quite liberating…

The major flaw of Newtonian thinkers lies in the fact that they do not believe in something until they can see it for themselves. It’s like the New Testament story of Thomas after Jesus’ resurrection. He had to actually feel the wounds of Jesus before he believed that it was Jesus that was standing before him. “Blessed are those who do not see, but believe.” I feel as though those who need physical evidence before they can actually believe something as true are severely limiting themselves. Einstein came up with his theory of relativity before performing any actual empirical experiments. The theory just came to him, in his mind, where all creativity and coming at the “truth” takes place, according to Pearson’s Magical Child Matures. I find it pretty amazing that even after 2,000 years, the fundamental conflict between Plato’s idea of the Forms, which are abstract and universal, and Aristotle’s emphasis on the scientific method to empirically prove such ideas is still in effect today.(12)

April 19, 2004

…I think that a lot of the flaws of Western scientists come from their tendency to completely disregard any kind of practice that cannot supply them with a technical explanation of how it works. Just because you don’t know how something works doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work, and that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use it for practical purposes and the benefit of yourself or others. It seems as though such scientists don’t want to continue the pursuit of knowledge for the benefit of humankind but only to show off how knowledgeable they are about certain minute details that don’t necessarily get us anywhere and in which most people aren’t even interested.

I think the metaphor of the clock, which was so prevalent during the Scientific Revolution, is a good way to illustrate the ridiculousness of the Western pursuit of science: most people use a clock to tell time. No one cares how the clock works, as long as it can show what time it is. Western close-minded scientists can be so wrapped up in figuring out how the clock works that they completely forget what the purpose of the clock is for, consequently wasting their time away with meaningless investigations. The clock ticks their time away as they wrestle to find out how it ticks. It’s sad how some people get lost in technicalities and forget that there’s more to life than the mechanistic structures of the universe. The reason they embarked on their scientific endeavors in the first place was to contribute something to the search for meaning. Somewhere along the way, meaning was thrown out the window, and in its place was left meaningless drivel.(13)

April 23, 2004

…I always knew that meditation was a good way to relax and help in clearing the mind as well as resulting in the ability to focus more during one’s daily life. But I didn’t know that it could relieve stress so permanently, allow for such a sensual experience, enhance creativity…and lead to ultimate enlightenment. I always thought that enlightenment would come only after strenuous mental thought processes, after which one would arrive at a realization of the meaning of life. Who knew that the meaning of life was to experience the wonders that we humans have always been capable of through simply “being in the moment”?…

And I always thought I’d arrive at a positive self-image only after I had taken much time to carefully scrutinize every little experience I’d ever had and analyze my behavior in certain situations. Of course, I don’t have time to go over my entire life history. Not to mention that that would most definitely leave out a lot of things that I only subconsciously know about myself, in which case I always thought that I’d have to keep a journal of all my dreams in order to help me analyze my subconscious, which would most certainly take years of recording and analysis. Definitely too much work and too little time, and definitely would not allow me to enjoy life in the meanwhile, nor would it be very fun for me to go through. Meditation is definitely the way to go for me, starting this summer.(14)

In two semesters, I had transformed my scientific Western mindset, which had been fixated on finding a physiological correlate to the human compulsion to believe in the transcendent, into a more open-minded, holistic Eastern approach to viewing the world. I realized that the existence of God or anything spiritual did not necessarily have to be proven on a physical level in order to be valid; experiential knowledge of the transcendent served just as well to convince me of the reality of the spiritual dimension.

Ironically, as I learned in my “Magic, Science, and Religion” class, such emphasis on experience is actually in the spirit of the scientific endeavor that emerged during the Scientific Revolution in the late medieval period. Contrary to popular belief, the Scientific Revolution did not see a development of secularism based upon scientific values. Instead, it saw the decline of reliance solely upon ancient Greek authority and a move away from Aristotelian cosmological philosophy, leading to greater emphasis on individualism and empirical methodology or experience—the Scientific Revolution’s most significant legacies. Therefore, the interest and engagement in Eastern practices occurring in modern Western societies is in keeping with the essence of the discipline of science handed down to us from the Scientific Revolution.

As I finished the spring semester of that year, I decided that I would begin my spiritual journey into discovering for myself the nature of the ultimate through the knowledge that I would gain both experientially and academically. That summer, I had two opportunities to gain experiential knowledge: a family trip to Vietnam with my uncle and cousin and an internship in documentary filmmaking in Costa Rica.



The trip to Vietnam was my first visit to my motherland and proved to be a culturally invigorating and informative experience. The following is a reflection on the eye-opening encounters that Vietnam offered me:

June 21, 2004

…Ever since I’ve gotten here, I’ve seen women with burns and sores and all kinds of diseases imaginable. I’ve seen one woman whose neck is no longer existent because her skin has been so eaten away by disease. I’ve seen men without arms and legs. One man had legs that were so deformed and tiny as to have been mistaken for a two-year-old’s; he got around with sandals on his hands. I’ve seen little children begging for money. I’ve seen Cambodian kids no more than three years old following tourists around, continuing the tradition of the trade their parents have handed down to them, with explicit training for child labor. I’ve seen older kids carrying around their infant brothers and sisters in slings, with their necks bent backwards, just so people could feel bad for them and give them money. I’ve seen a little girl and a little boy, no more than five years old, sleeping on the sidewalk by themselves, with little hats for collecting money in their hands. I’ve seen men lounging around on their motorcycles or cyclos (xich lo’s), asking anyone who passes by if they need a lift, but no one ever says yes. I’ve seen women carrying around baskets attached to poles on their backs trying to sell fruit to whomever walks by. I’ve seen little old ladies trailing tourists trying to get them to buy cheap postcards. I’ve seen little boys and girls trying to sell scratch tickets. How do any of these people make any money when everyone they approach just shoos them away? How could they possibly earn a living that way? How could they possibly feed themselves consistently, never mind their families? I guess every member of the family has to work if they expect any income whatsoever. How can the kids get an education this way?
Yet, despite these preoccupations, they all walk around with smiles on their faces, trying to be as cheery and friendly as possible in order to get customers. They all walk or sit around as if they had all the time in the world to worry about tomorrow. They don’t ever look as though the world owes them something. They definitely hold the secret to happiness. If not them, then no one else…

Vietnam stands between the East and the West: Its Chinese influence due to occupation for many centuries makes it part of the Eastern hemisphere; its French influence and identification with the Red Scare during the Cold War makes it a part of Western history. The two dominant religions in the country are Buddhism and Christianity (mainly Catholicism). The standard of living and lifestyle is characteristic of Eastern countries because of the poverty and petty crime as well as the carefree, laidback, live-each-day-to-the-fullest mentality. The economy has become heavily, if not entirely, reliant on the tourist industry and therefore has taken on the characteristically Western market economy…as well as the technological progress and party-hardy mentality of college kids in America. The Vietnamese people struggle to survive in a society that is itself struggling to make a name for itself.

The economy has become centered upon the Western source of evil: money. Yet, there is not much, if any, stress notable on any of the people’s faces. The Vietnamese here all have black hair. Even most of the elderly have black hair. I can’t imagine everyone here being able to afford getting their hair dyed—not when they have more important things to worry about, such as feeding themselves and their families for the night. No, their lack of gray hair must be due to the lack of stress that they seem so immune to. It’s like they have no concept of stress. Maybe it’s because they think they’ve seen the worst (and most of them probably have), so they’ve decided that things can only get better. Or maybe they know something us Westerners don’t know. Maybe they know that life is not meant to be wasted away worrying about the future. Maybe, because they are so focused on getting by for the moment, tomorrow (and the next and the next) doesn’t even occur to them. Maybe they just know how to enjoy life. As much as they are surrounded by us Western tourists and see the wealth and luxury we enjoy, this does not depress them. They don’t hate us for our riches and good fortune. They are already happy living their lives for today. They are already happy with the lot they’ve been given by God. They know much more happiness than most Westerners could ever experience in their meaningless, consumer-driven lives.(15)

Witnessing such seeming contentment in individuals whose lives were filled with such poverty and pain inspired me to view life with the same optimistic approach. These encounters were a prime motivator for me to start my practice of meditation and mindfulness in my everyday activities during the trip. I began to recognize that the small, mundane, and seemingly meaningless actions in life; such as breathing, taking showers, and eating; were all infused with profound wonder and beauty if simply taken notice of in the moment that I am fully engaged and participating in the activity. The beautiful scenic boat trips and guided nature tours of Vietnam´s numerous natural wonders encouraged the development of my practice even more. Supplementing the practice were inspirational passages from Thich Nhat Hanh´s Peace is Every Step, a book that my academic advisor had suggested to me before I left for my trip.

Within the five weeks that I spent in Vietnam, I had immersed myself in the beauty of the present moment and discovered my natural inclination towards the philosophy and practice of Buddhism, particularly Zen. My interest in Zen meditation would later culminate in the final product of this thesis project: a short ethnographic documentary film on Zen practitioners living in Cambridge, MA.

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Internship Experience

Following my trip to Vietnam, I went to Samara, Costa Rica, a small beach town off the coast of the Pacific for a five-weeklong internship in digital journalism and documentary filmmaking, called Global Media Adventures. From this internship, I learned basic digital video camera skills, including composition, lighting, building sequences and location audio recording. I also learned how to edit digital video footage using Final Cut Pro, a MAC-based industry-standard editing program. I was given the opportunity to direct, shoot, write, edit and produce my own five-minute documentary and collaborated with a team of four on directing, shooting, writing, editing and producing a five-minute promotional video.
Despite these necessary skills, perhaps the most valuable thing that I gained from this hands-on experience is the appreciation for the importance of human relationships, particularly networking in the television industry. Through this internship, I made connections with several filmmaking professionals, the most important of which is a director of photography, Mike Parker, whose credits include Rescue 911, CNN, Discovery Channel, and The History Channel. In general, my experience in Costa Rica yielded some necessary training, an indispensable contact, and some lifelong friends.

Though I learned and gained much, this internship also taught me that with every good experience, one may expect a bad one, and the entirety of the program was not without its shortcomings. Since the program was running for the first time, the nine of us students were subject to the whims and lack of organization and preparation of the staff; particularly of the director, who proved to be rather irresponsible and short-tempered. Within the first week of the program, he had grounded all of the student participants with a 10:00PM curfew due to his suspicion concerning the drug use of two students, with no cause or evidence. The students´ relations with him from then on grew hostile and the atmosphere surrounding the program became acrid and stale.

For me, personally, another downside to the program was its focus on the commercial and journalistic nature of television documentaries. Here, the emphasis was on the careful preparation of a documentary script, arrived at through preliminary research and interviews, and then the recording of “b-roll,” or the appropriate visual material used to illustrate and accompany the information appearing in the script, as provided by a host or by interview subjects. This approach relegated the visuals to a secondary realm of importance, placing more importance on the conveyance of information through verbal material. Such an emphasis caused me to question the discrepancy between the use of visuals and audio in the audiovisual medium of television, a discrepancy that will later be discussed in more depth.
In the fall semester of my fourth year, I obtained two more opportunities for real-world experience: an internship at WGBH’s NOVA Science Unit and another internship at Documentary Educational Resources. NOVA is a documentary series within New England’s WGBH Educational Foundation, which is a network of public television channels and radio stations that produces most of PBS’ prime-time television shows. The series produces shows that deal specifically with science-related matters.

As an intern at NOVA, working 16 hours per week, I was able to familiarize myself with several of the television programs that were at various stages of development, production and postproduction. In particular, I worked as a researcher for a relatively new idea that my supervisor, Evan Hadingham, NOVA’s senior science editor, had for a reality show-style program featuring famous psychological experiments. I also was a production assistant for a quarterly magazine-style show, “Science Now,” which presents highlights of news stories in the science community. My postproduction experience came from the biographical program called “Percy Julian,” which traces the story of a black chemist during the Civil Rights movement. These are three out of the six major projects, not including the regular NOVA shows, that were in progress during the three months that I worked there.

During the course of the internship, a few problems arose that called into question my suitability for a career in public broadcasting. These problems mainly concerned the fact that, for a majority of my time spent there, I felt as though there was too much pressure in the atmosphere. This is not to say that I am incapable of multi-tasking or that I was too slow to keep up with the pace there; I mean that a majority of the NOVA employees were overly stressed out. I think that part of the reason for this is that things worked rather inefficiently at NOVA. Everyone is constantly running around tending to a dozen different tasks at once, working away at them in increments so that a documentary that started two-and-half years ago is only in the middle of its post-production stages now. The work environment there was so unhealthy to the point that I seriously contemplated instituting a mandatory break every afternoon so that people could unwind and possibly join in a meditation session if they so chose. I would have definitely gone through with it had I not been a lowly intern with no authority to do so.

The other problem I confronted during my time at NOVA was the quality of the programming. Though WGBH is dedicated to the pursuit of education and knowledge for viewers, gained through the intermediary medium of video, the programs dealing with science-related matters were produced in a way that most elementary school children could understand the complex concepts conveyed. This approach would have been effective had NOVA´s target audience been children of this age, but as my supervisor at the time had mentioned to me once, the majority of NOVA´s viewers were well into their 50s and 60s. Nor were the producers simply dumbing down the quality of the programming in an effort to attract a younger audience. Instead, their reasoning was that they must take into consideration the educational background and knowledge of the general viewing public, which in some cases was little to none. Because of this attempt to cater to viewers of all backgrounds, public broadcasting takes on a style of simplicity to the point of teaching to grade-schoolers. It was through my experience at NOVA that I realized I do not want to dedicate my life to a career in which condescension of mass audiences hampers my filmmaking approach to a particular subject.

By contrast, my internship at Documentary Educational Resources (DER) showed me what I actually want to do with my career: work in the production of independent ethnographic documentary films that are used primarily in the classroom as teaching tools. DER is a not-for-profit organization that sells and distributes educational documentaries to schools and teachers for educational purposes. As an intern, my responsibility was to watch and write reviews for all of the films that filmmakers submitted to the organization for distribution. Through this experience, I developed a critical eye and learned what not to do in filmmaking. I also helped the organization with some of the content and links on its website and edited a 20-minute-long segment of some of DER’s best film clips for a promotional event. I established a resourceful contact with my supervisor, Cynthia Close, who knows the intricacies and professionals of the independent filmmaking industry. As in my internship in Costa Rica, I had found a valuable resource, mentor, and friend through the channels of filmmaking.

Thus was the extent of my internship experience during my time as an undergraduate student. It only took six months for me to realize to which niche in the documentary film industry I belonged. Experiencing for myself the nature of the two different environments in the film business gave me reason enough to choose one over the other. However, as with most debates, there are more complexities involved in the functioning and success of both. In the following chapter, I explore the documentary tradition as it relates to the division between the two camps, analyze what form and function that division takes in contemporary films, and discuss what elements from each make a successful documentary.

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(1) McEvilley, Thomas. The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. NY: Allworth Press, 2002. 28.
(2) Ibid. 29.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) It must be noted, however, that the intention of this passage was not a “concrete material monism as an exclusive doctrine, but as part of a staged approach to the concept of brahman, or featureless being, as the substrate.” Ibid. 30.
(7) Please refer to The Institute for the Advancement of the Social Sciences at Boston University for the entire published version of this paper. Vu, Xuan. “The Monistic Foundation of Early Greek Philosophy.” The Institute for the Advancement of the Social Sciences at Boston University May 2004 <>.
(8) Vu, Xuan. Journal entry for “Psychology of Psychic Phenomena and Extrasensory Perception” CASHU311 course. Prof. Anthony Barrand. 18 Jan. 2004.
(9) Ibid. 9 Feb. 2004.
(10) Ibid. 17 Feb. 2004.
(11) Ibid. 12 Mar. 2004.
(12) Ibid. 28 Mar. 2004.
(13) Ibid. 19 Apr. 2004.
(14) Ibid. 23 Apr. 2004.
(15)Vu, Xuan. Journal entry. 21 June 2004.

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