a film made at Tassajara in 1968
by John Sunier

See Rite at YouTube

Sunier films



May 28, 2020 - Received this note from William Lonergan

I had done some library research at Stanford and the SF Public Library about the film from the Canyon Cinema and a google search of some of those details brought me to your website.

Here is a youtube link to John Sunier's 1968 short film "Rite" which was filmed at Tassajara. It was shot on Super8 color film with no synch-sound and finished on 16mm color film with over-dubbed sound. The film was completed in November 1968.


Rite (1968), 6mins, tone poem
16mm color sound film, directed by John Sunier.
“Images and sound recorded at the Zen Mountain Center, Tassajara Hot Springs, California. Ritual of bell, gong and hand heard on soundtrack is synchronized to meditative views of the routine of life in this beautiful retreat.” [Canyon Cinema Catalog 4 (1976)]

Filmed at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the Ventana Wilderness area of the Los Padres National Forest, southeast of Carmel, California.

Stills by Tim Buckley

© John Sunier 1968

Known public screenings:


John Sunier was the producer of the public radio series "Audiophile Audition" from 1985-1998. Earlier in his career, he created independent short films such as this one. Mr. Sunier passed away in January 2018. I obtained the "Rite" film reel from his estate sale.



DC responded:

Thank you so much for contacting me about this.

I was there when he did this though I don't remember it or him though we surely met. I met everyone. I was running the guest dining room. I have four other Tassajara films from back then on shunryusuzuki.com - because we got copies of them all. I've never seen or heard anything about this film before so it's really neat to see it. It's good. At first I thought you were writing about another short 1968 film made at Tassajara I call simply Tassajara 68. But as soon as it started I realized it was different. I checked and yes that other film was made by someone else - Larry Cooper. I'd only discovered it in a Zen Center safe in 2013 when I had everything I could find in there digitized before leaving for Asia. I live in Bali with my wife and I haven't been back so glad I did. Interestingly, shortly after I arrived here Larry Cooper got hold of me - for the first time - and sent me a hi res version of his film. But I knew the name John Sunier. From where I wondered. And then I remembered. It's in some old SFZC board notes. He asked for permission. I was looking at that when I posted them - ahh - around the same time Cooper got hold of me - December 2013. Here it is:

68-12-19 - They're discussing the future of the building - none of it pans out. Before the coming year is up they'll be at Page St. and the Japanese American congregation will later move to a new building. Talk of developing a school. Comments on this and more by Suzuki. John Sunier Tassajara movie mentioned. Have sent him a friend request on Facebook. I should have tried harder. I see he was posting there up to two years ago.


The snapshot from a page of early SF Zen Center board notes mentions "John Sunier's movie of Tassajara" in the agenda, but there's nothing in the notes. I assumed that was the person who'd written about wanting to use Tassajara for a longer film and insisted we owed it to them because of the rock bands that helped us with the Zenefit. Peter Schneider got an angry letter when they were turned down. But Sunier's film was obviously not intrusive in the making. I'm in touch with Peter Schneider who was director of Tassajara then and at that board meeting. Maybe he'll remember. Tim Buckley who was a priest in Peter's lineage died a few years ago. I assume he knew about the film and gave Sunier the photos back then. He was at Tassajara then too.


Board Notes