Dharamsala Dispatch #7: A birthday video for the Dalai Lama

BY EVA CIRNU (Dharamsala) - Living in Dharamsala, we are often asked if we ‘meet the Dalai Lama’… No, we don’t. We are, however, fortunate enough to see him often. For example, whenever he travels we join the hundreds of people lining up along the streets of Dharamsala, waiting for him to bless them from his passing car. On other occasions, we attend public audiences that are organized for visitors & foreigners and during which he often shares advice on anything from compassionate living to doing drugs.

Lately, myself and Dominik Czartoryski, who is also a volunteer for the Canada Tibet Committee and living in Dharamsala, have had the opportunity to work on a project that made us feel as though we were meeting the Dalai Lama every day: we were filming and editing a video wishing him Happy Birthday, on behalf of the Tibetan government in exile and the Tibetan people. This post is less about the technicalities of that project and more about its emotional side putting the video together.

As one example, throughout the project I was amazed by how few Tibetans would agree to appear on camera to wish His Holiness Happy Birthday. Their profound reverence for the Dalai Lama compelled them to hesitate because they didn’t feel ‘up to the task’, or because they feared they would not do a good enough job.

We were also moved by the discovery of meaningful photographs to feature in the video. We did not want to re-use photos that had already circulated in the public domain and so we searched out photographers with previously unpublished images. Each photo that we found had a wonderful story behind it. For example, the photo depicting an old monk and young boy inside Tibet holding photos of the Dalai Lama reminded us that they both risked imprisonment for that very simple act.

The photo we used showing a nomadic family – a father with his two beautiful daughters – appears to portray a happy and worry-free family. As it turns out, both daughters had just missed the age cut-off for the mandatory boarding schools for nomad children. Photographer John Birchak told us that both of the girls were comforted in the realization that they would be doing what their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had been doing for generations.

John’s photo of the Potala was another reminder of today’s sad reality inside Tibet. Once the glorious home of the Dalai Lama filled with historical significance for the Tibetan people, the Potala is now a government-operated museum. Still, China’s propaganda does not fool visitors. “I wanted the photo to suggest sadness with the dark sky, clouds and graininess”, explained John Birchak.

The final version of our video was launched just prior to the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan calendar birthday on June 22. Dominik and I were honored to have been part of the project and are now, more than ever, in awe of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s accomplishments and life-long commitment to compassion and non-violence.

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.
Eva Cirnu is Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section. She is based in Dharamsala, India.

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