The Dalai Lama and his family were portrayed by actual relatives of the Dalai Lama himself, now living in refugee in Dalamsala as well as abroad. Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong who played the adult Dalai Lama is his grand nephew.
Martin Scorsese dedicated this film to his mother Catherine Scorsese who had died during the pre-production of this film, because "the Dalai Lama represents unconditional love, and to me my mother was the closest person with that kind of love".
Cinematographer Roger Deakins believes that Martin Scorsese hired him for the documentary experience, given that they were working with a cast of non-actors. Deakins believed that he was hired because he's have the ability to naturally sense when the scenes would be properly executed when the actors finished a take.
According to In Search of Kundun with Martin Scorsese (1998), when Melissa Mathison first presented her agency with the script and they asked her who she had in mind as director, her first choice was Martin Scorsese. According to her, everyone was in disbelief he would consider the script let alone direct the film (Scorsese is a part of the "Movie Brats" group of filmmakers from the 1970's, which included friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg).
The 14th Dalai Lama took his position as the head of Tibet on 17th November 1950. On this day director Martin Scorcsese was celebrating his Eighth Birthday. On this day Kundun assumed full temporal (political) power after China's invasion of Tibet in 1949 (Iron-Tiger Year, 10th month, 11th day)
Martin Scorsese said that in order to film the scenes with the young children, they had to build a clown house around the camera so that the children would have something to see to draw their attention towards the camera lense.