Older woman and Dalai Lama working together on something, heads bent down
Rosemary Rawcliffe’s (left) says its a “miracle” that her film on the Dalai Lama survived a devastating West Berkeley burglary. Photo: Peter McCandless/Frame of Mind

Two months after thieves wiped out the entire inventory of a West Berkeley production company, filmmakers are gearing up for the premiere of a documentary that survived the wreckage.

“It’s a miracle that we have a film. Everything else was ripped out of my office,” said Frame of Mind founder Rosemary Rawcliffe.

The piece in question, premiering at the Mill Valley Film Festival this month, is The Great 14th: Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama In His Own Words. The deeply intimate autobiographical portrayal of the spiritual leader is the product of decades of relationship-building and filming.

“It’s his story, told by him,” Rawcliffe said. “Dalai Lama devotee or not, anyone who is interested in living the best life they can will get something from this.”

Rawcliffe and her staff were putting finishing touches on the documentary when the unimaginable happened. They arrived at their Ninth Street office on July 29 to find that numerous high-quality computers, hard drives and headphones were gone. Most devastatingly for the filmmakers, years and years of archival footage was taken with it.

“They ripped the heart and soul out of my business for 30 years. It’s been an enormous blow,” said Rawcliffe, reached by phone while she and her staff were working out of her Albany kitchen. The company moved out of its office for good a few days ago.

Surveillance footage shows a woman holding a computer and a box by a door.
Surveillance footage appeared to show two people stealing heavy-duty equipment from a media company in West Berkeley in July. Image: Courtesy Frame of Mind Films

Surveillance video footage from the building — Parker Plaza at 2550 Ninth St. — appeared to show a man and a woman removing item after item in the middle of that July night. Footage showing the same people entering the property on previous dates was also uncovered.

A man has been charged in connection with the theft. Eddie Anthony Edwards, 34, of an unknown address, was arrested Sept. 10 and charged with four counts of felony burglary, according to Berkeley police and court records. He is in custody.

Police say Edwards is the man seen in video footage using a drill on Rawcliffe’s office door on three separate occasions, including the July 29 burglary. According to court documents, Edwards was arrested in Emeryville two days after the Frame of Mind theft on suspicion of another, residential burglary and possession of a stolen vehicle. Some of the film company’s missing equipment was found inside that vehicle, according to police. In court records, police say Edwards was wearing clothing items seen in the Frame of Mind surveillance footage during the Emeryville arrest.

“In reference to the burglary on 7/29/19, Edwards admitted that he knew where the victim’s property was, he stated that he would make arrangements to have the victim’s property returned, and he apologized to the victim,” according to court documents. (After publication, a Frame of Mind representative said Edwards never ultimately apologized or had any stolen property returned.)

Frame of Mind staff said a hard drive and tape deck were recovered from the stolen car, but the rest of the equipment and footage is nowhere to be found.

BPD Officer Byron White, a department spokesman, said police are still looking for the woman in the videos. According to Rawcliffe, an anonymous informant came forward with the names of both burglars.

In the disorienting aftermath of the theft, Rawcliffe’s first objective was to figure out how to finish the film that was set to premiere in Marin in a matter of weeks.

“My main concern was to fulfill my promise to everyone who worked on the film” — including the Dalai Lama himself, she said.

Unbelievably, Frame of Mind discovered that the thieves had neglected to take a small hard drive containing the film files, which the filmmakers had misplaced.

“It was a miracle,” Rawcliffe said. “It was nothing short of divine intervention. When I found that, it was a huge relief to be able to go and say, ‘We can finish this film.'”

They are still scrambling to get final legal permissions — another casualty of the theft — and other logistics in place in time for the festival, but Frame of Mind is confident it will happen. Tickets for two screenings sold out in a matter of minutes, according to the production company, and a third show (on Oct. 10) was added. All three screenings are at the Smith Rafael Film Center and additional tickets may be available at the door. The Dalai Lama’s younger brother, Tendzin Choegyal, is coming to town next week and will appear alongside Rawcliffe at the events.

Five people stand in front of a screen displaying a photo of the Dalai Lama
The Great 14th production team, from left: Elizabeth Ray, Holly Hine, Rosemary Rawcliffe, Andrew Vernon and Tom Disher. Photo: Holly Hine/Frame of Mind

Meanwhile, Rawcliffe is trying to figure out how to get the film out to a wider audience, and how to raise back some of the tens of thousands of dollars the company lost. (Donations can be made online.)

But the bigger picture is still blurry.

“On the 14th of October, when the festival is over and the dust starts to settle, what happens? No idea,” she said.

That said, Rawcliffe, a longtime student of Buddhism, can’t help but absorb some of the advice offered by her own film subject.

“I’ve worked with His Holiness over the last 20 years,” she said. “You can’t come out of this and do a film about him without turning to his good counsel. What does he say? You focus on what you can do, you don’t look to the past, you don’t imagine what might happen in the future. He walked over the Himalayas. That example alone — he didn’t give up, how can we?”

Avatar photo

Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...