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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Interview: In Conversation with directors of The Sun Behind the Clouds

February 8, 2010

Dear Cinema (India)
February 7, 2010

The Sun Behind the Clouds captures the fifty
years of Tibetan struggle for freedom. Made by
Tibetan filmmaker Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin,
the film has been in the eye of storm at Palm
Spring Film Festival in the US, where the Chinese
authorities tried to browbeat the organizers,
pressurizing them to cancel the screening,
however, the festival refused to buckle. The 11th
Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) holds
the first festial screening of the film in India.

Nandita Dutta caught up with filmmakers at the 11th MFF in Mumbai.

What were the challenges you faced during the shooting of this film?

Tenzing: Our primary idea when we started working
on this film was to look at Tibet after 50 years
of its fall. As we began, the uprising of March
2008 took place and we found ourselves covering
the events as they unfolded. Our initial plans
went haywire. We were so caught up in the events
yet had to look at them objectively. This was a major challenge.

Ritu: While filming the Return to Tibet march in
India, Tenzing and our son Mila were in a camp
with the marchers when police blockaded the camp
side deep in the mountains of Uttarakhand. They
were trapped in the camp for ten days along with
the marchers. The police almost arrested them
when my son cried-“I am a minor, you can’t arrest me.”

What gave you such a close access to the Dalai Lama?

Ritu: We had filmed the Dalai Lama many times
before. The first time we had filmed him was in
1986 on a tour to Europe. We also filmed him when
he received the Nobel Prize for Peace. So getting
through to him was not a difficulty.

The Chinese officials repeatedly said that the
assertions presented in The Sun Behind the Clouds were all lies. Your comments?

Tenzing: The Chinese live in a world that is
either black or white. Whatever doesn’t represent
their point of view is a lie. All they had seen
of our film was the trailer that was there on the
website about Tibetan struggle for freedom. They
thought it was an anti-Chinese film.

What did you think of the Chinese officials
trying to stall the screening of The Sun behind the Clouds at Palm Springs?

Ritu: We didn’t expect them to go this far. The
Chinese have always tried to stall the screenings
of the films they didn’t like at film festivals,
but withdrawing two of their films for this
purpose went a bit too far. We feel sad for the
Chinese film makers whose films were pulled out of the festival.

How difficult it is to make a film on such an
issue objectively when the filmmaker is involved in it?

Tenzing: There is always a dilemma. When a
subject matter has you emotional involvement, how
do you take an objective view of it? I am a
Tibetan refugee and an activist myself, I can’t
be completely objective. Within that perspective,
I have tried not to be propagandist. These day
people are increasing turning against the Middle
Way Approach of the Dalai Lama. But my challenge
was to present it in such a way that no one from
my own community can point fingers at me and say that he is anti Dalai Lama.

Ritu: Through this film, we have just tried to
provide a common space where everyone can come
together to understand the issue.

What do you expect your film to achieve?

Ritu: We expect our film to raise awareness about
what is happening in Tibet. It should also spark
a debate among the Tibetan community about the best way to move forward.
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