It’s unlikely that a life story doesn’t strike a chord with anyone. Nicholas “Nicky” Vreeland’s contributions to Buddhism have moved many, and it’s easy to see why. His fascination and skill with photography (along with his overall pure intentions) made waves, and helped the Tibetan monk become more in touch with his new Buddist lifestyle.
But, some life stories are lucky enough to sustain a feature length film and others are more suited for the written word. Vreeland’s life and times as documented by documentarians Guido Santi and Tina Mascara fall in the latter category. That’s not to diminish Nicky’s achievements, but reading about his commendable honours in his own honest words would’ve been more rewarding and invigorating than watching him exhaust his cultural ideas in this mediocre doc.
Vreeland’s departure from his life of glitz and glamour was a natural decision for him, and a fairly understandable issue for family and colleagues to comprehend. Santi and Mascara – with astute and smooth cinematography – respectively catalogue the transition and are very careful not to cut around Vreeland’s articulate beliefs. His moments of clarity that open his eyes to Buddhism are handled nicely and neglect developing Nicky’s idyllic choices as farfetched, undercooked fodder. Even if the doc itself is general in a stylistic sense, the Tibetan monk can still be proud of how this film represents him.
However, as an audience member, you can’t help but crave more. And, that’s when my opinion comes into play about moulding this story for a autobiographical book rather than a movie. If the filmmakers couldn’t add their own energy to Vreeland’s credible history, what’s the point behind the project? It’s an inspirational journey that shows accomplished and ambitious integrity, but Santi and Mascara plainly lay out the groundwork and hesitate to give it additional life. If viewers were reading about Nicky’s life and his involvement within the Buddhist community, we could at least add our own excitement along to Nicky’s joy.
Monk with a Camera is modest, but lacks efficient propellant. It’s not enough for documentarians to just “show” a story. They must find a creative approach that would also stimulate the inspiration provided by the subject.