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Lost homeland -- A film festival on Tibet

May 19, 2009

A film festival on Tibet and what it means to be a Tibetan in the modern world
Sanjukta Sharma
Live Mint / The Wall Street Journal
May 15, 2009

Mumbai -- The annual Tibetan Film Festival has
travelled out of New Delhi for the first time.
Around 20 films -- some documentaries, a few
docudramas and some motion pictures— tell
engaging narratives about what Tibet has lost and
how we can think about its land and people differently.

Many of these films, to be screened in Bangalore,
are made by Tibetan film-makers and writers in
exile, and taken together, their works are a key
to understanding what it means to be a Tibetan in the modern world.

Organized by the New Delhi-based The Foundation
for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the
Dalai Lama, the festival goes to Taiwan in July
and Mussoorie in August. Thupten Tsewang,
programme director of the foundation, says, “We
are finalizing dates and venues for Mumbai and
other Indian cities through summer.”

Tsewang spoke to Lounge from Bangalore, where the
foundation is hosting a 24-member inter-community
religious dialogue programme, coinciding with the film festival.

Some of the films in the six-day festival are
biopics on the life and message of the Dalai
Lama, including a few by film-makers from Europe
and the US, but the ones that look most promising
are those that portray the lives of ordinary Tibetans—at “home” and away.

In Dreaming Lhasa (2005), Karma, a Tibetan
film-maker based in New York, goes to Dharamsala,
the Dalai Lama’s exile headquarters in India, to
make a documentary on former political prisoners
who have escaped from Tibet. She wants to
reconnect with her roots but is also escaping a
deteriorating relationship back home. One of
Karma’s interviewees is Dhondup, an enigmatic
ex-monk who has just escaped from Tibet. He
confides in her that his real reason for coming
to India is to fulfil his dying mother’s last
wish, to deliver a charm box to a long-missing
resistance fighter. Karma finds herself
unwittingly falling in love with Dhondup.

Directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, this
film is a powerful docudrama on the Tibetan situation.

The Cup (2003) is a guerrilla-style feature film
made by a reincarnate lama or rinpoche, Khyentse
Norbu. Set in a monastery in Bhutan, it is a
humorous story of desperation, optimism and the
innocence of childhood during the course of a
night—the night when the World Cup Soccer final is telecast on TV.

To make the documentary Art In Exile (2005),
Nidhi Tuli and Ashraf Abbas met activist poet
Tenzin Tsundue, the former Tibetan Youth Congress
president-poet Lhasang Tsering, and the rock band
JJi Exile Brothers to showcase multiple
narratives on an alternative revolution of Tibetan artists in exile.

And if you must watch a Dalai Lama biopic, catch
Kundun (1997), directed by Martin Scorsese, that
also has a haunting music score by Oscar-nominated composer Philip Glass.

Tibetan Film Festival 2009 is on at the Choe Khor
Sum Ling centre, Bangalore, till 19 May. For more
details, visit
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