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Review: Tibet in Song (2008)

September 26, 2010

A Fight to Preserve Tibetan Music
New York Times Critics
September 23, 2010

Ngawang Choephel, a Tibetan musicologist who was
imprisoned by the Chinese for more than six
years, would have had a compelling film had he
simply stuck to his own remarkable story. But his
documentary, "Tibet in Song," is doubly powerful
because he also weaves in the overall history of
Tibet’s struggle, a primer on the Chinese
government’s campaign to muzzle Tibetan culture
and vignettes from other Tibetans who resisted.

David Huang/Guge Productions

Lhamo, a character of "Tibet in Song," discusses a costume.

Mr. Choephel left Tibet with his mother in the
years after the Chinese invasion of 1950, growing
up in India, where other refugees implanted in
him a love of traditional Tibetan songs. He
returned to Tibet in the 1990s to try to capture
this musical history on tape, but the Chinese had
a head start of several decades.

"The first music I heard was Chinese Communist
propaganda and Chinese pop songs," he recalls of
his arrival in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. “It was an
unexpected, alien sound and seemed to be following me wherever I went.”

He had better luck finding traditional singers in
the countryside, but he was only partway into his
recording efforts when he was arrested and jailed
as a spy in 1995. One of the more touching
aspects of this film is his account of his
mother’s tireless campaign to have him freed,
which finally paid off in 2002. Persistence, it seems, runs in the family.


Opens on Friday in Manhattan.

Written, produced, directed and narrated by
Ngawang Choephel; director of photography, Hugh
Walsh; edited by Tim Bartlett and Laura J.
Corwin; music by Mr. Choephel; released by Guge
Productions. At the Cinema Village, 22 East 12th
Street, Greenwich Village. In English and
Tibetan, with English subtitles. Running time: 1
hour 26 minutes. This film is not rated.
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