I have this fantastic multi-episode documentary on the Mogao Caves, which I picked up last summer. They are spectacular, they are super-important for anything having to do with the Silk Road (seriously; you can look at the decorations and see depictions of textiles and carpets which were being traded, and pictures of the different peoples who were trading), they are a major site of Buddhist art, and, frankly, they are just super-cool.
So, since I now have to plan out the syllabi for the upcoming semester (side note: I realize that, come April, I will be very happy that the semester runs on the "early start, early finish" schedule which it has... that doesn't mean it isn't super-annoying at the moment, when I really wish I had more of a break to get things ready), I am spending some time watching the documentaries.
The cinematography is amazing-- it's really fantastic, especially considering the fact that all of this art is in a cave, and dates back hundreds and hundreds of years.
The problem is that the narrator (who does not appear on screen), who explains what is being shown, and tells the stories which are shown on the walls, is clearly not a native English speaker (and is, I think, just reading the script straight). Sometimes, this is not a problem... sometimes, however, I think that folks are going to have a really hard time understanding what the heck is being talked about.
So far, the three caves they've talked about have focused on the stories told by the wall paintings in specific caves-- the general "here is a statue of Buddha, and here is the specific Buddha who is being talked about," and then the individual stories.
Me: So, how is this working out? I mean, can you understand what he's saying?
d_ragondaughter: Um... I think that you're going to have to provide a handout, and some context.
Me: Yeah, we're going to have to have an introduction to Buddhism and all of the Buddhist terms. Like... the stories they're telling here are Jataka stories, which are the assorted stories of the incarnations of the Buddha before the historical Buddha who achieved enlightenment.
Me: Each of the previous incarnations demonstrates specific virtues and good qualities, which eventually lead up to him becoming enlightened and, well, Buddha. They develop later on in Buddhism--they're not from the time of Buddha himself, they develop later, to show different virtues and how Buddha was always especially virtuous and self-sacrificing.
d_ragondaughter: So, this is essentially all Buddha fanfic?
Me: Um... yes?
(but I probably will not say that to my students)