Correction: This story has been modified from its original version. — This article has been modified from its original version to more accurately reflect Jane Vance's status as an instructor here at Tech. The Collegiate Times regrets this error.
One Virginia Tech instructor is delivering the gift of culture to communities on opposite sides of the world.
“A Gift for the Village” is a documentary that follows Jane Lillian Vance, an instructor of the creative process at Tech, and her team, to Nepal, as they deliver a gift to a village leader and lama.
Narrated by Public Radio’s Lisa Mullins, the documentary is meant to be a “bridge” between the cultures of the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia and the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal.
Vance, also a painter, created a large, intricate painting of the lama of Jomsom Village, Amchi Tsampa Ngawang, affectionately referred to as Tsampa. This gift, and the film itself, received an official endorsement from the Dalai Lama himself.
Although the process of the documentary took 10 years, the film begins in 2007 with the arrival of Vance’s painting to Nepal. The painting is shown being delivered in a time of great transition for the village, including the arrival of running water, roads and electricity. Although all these things have greatly improved the lives of many people there, the survival of the culture still depends on crops and the availability of food and water.
The film documents the friendship between Vance and Tsampa, who is not only the village leader, but also a doctor among other things. He is an “encyclopedia of traditional medicine” and specializes in helping both the physically sick and the heartbroken.
In the film, Vance explains Tsampa and his family continually teach and conserve ancient traditions and values.
“Amchi knowledge is the faith that things grow back,” she said.
Several years after meeting, Tsampa made his first trip to America and stayed with Vance, speaking with her students and taking in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was during this time that Vance brought up the idea of a “lineage painting.”
In Tsampa’s world, a lineage painting is created when a Tibetan leader’s “spiritual and social status become so great that his influence becomes historic.” At first Tsampa declined, but he soon changed his mind.
The film captures the very first steps of this lineage painting, entitled “Amchi,” showing Tsampa helping Vance stretch the canvas, and then revealing the finished product 10 months later in 2002.
The painting is also a narrative record of Tsampa’s time in Virginia. It includes images and text, in both Tibetan and English, to describe Tsampa and his contributions and his connection to America.
Throughout the film, many interviews give insight into Vance’s life and her abilities. One such interview with author and art critic Suzi Gablik makes one wonder how Vance’s artwork is so accurate in depicting Tibetan culture.
“It is the only thing that has ever made me even tentatively consider reincarnation or past life experience, because it does seem so unlikely. I don’t think anyone could fake something like that,” Gablik said.
Creating pieces like these is Vance’s “fight against poverty of the mind. It’s one thing to deliver this thing 13,000 miles, but it’s another to have your hometown to say ‘come on in,’” she said, referring to her attempt to bridge the Himalayan culture with our own.
The first stop on the trip in 2007 is Katmandu, where Tsampa and other Nepalese villagers are waiting for the Virginians with blessing scarves. Here they unroll the painting in its new country for the first time. However, it is neither home, nor complete. It needs a frame, so it is taken to a shop to be fitted with special fabric called Tankas.
Once the painting is framed with the Tankas, the audience follows Vance’s group on its flight in a twin-engine plane to Tsampa’s village of Jomsom. The first order of business that audiences see however, is a ceremony hosted by Tsampa to honor those lost in the April 16, 2007, campus shootings at Tech, mirroring the candlelight vigil held on campus shortly afterward.