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Documentary Film: Fire Under the Snow

August 17, 2008

Internation Documentary Association
August 2008

The International Documentary Association is hosting DocuWeek
beginning August 22nd and there is a film that anyone who supports
Tibet would benefit from seeing. It is called Fire Under the Snow,
and it tells the story of Palden Gyatso, a Buddhist monk since
childhood, who was arrested by the Chinese Communist Army in 1959. He
spent the next 33 years in prison for the "crimes" of peaceful
demonstration and refusal to denounce his apolitical teacher as an
Indian spy. He was tortured, starved and sentenced to hard labor. He
watched his nation and culture destroyed, his teachers, friends and
family displaced, jailed or killed under Chinese occupation. The film
explores the escalating cycle of interrogation and physical violation
during his years in prison that ended decades later with Palden's
escape from Tibet and a cathartic meeting with His Holiness the Dalai
Lama. Fire Under the Snow reveals the contours of an inspirational
story: the survival of a mind and a soul under unthinkable duress.
Fire Under the Snow

Director/Producer: Makoto Sasa
Executive Producer: Maura Moynihan
Co-Producers: Vladan Nikolic, Jim Browne
Digital 75 min. India/Italy/Nepal/Tibet/USA
Imakoko Media, Inc.

Meet the Filmmakers: Makoto Sasa--'Fire Under the Snow'
By Thomas White
Over the next few weeks, we at IDA will be introducing our community
to the filmmakers whose work will be represented in the DocuWeekTM
Theatrical Documentary Showcase, August 8-14 in New York City and
August 22-28 in Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the
stories behind their films-the inspirations, the challenges and
obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.

So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Makoto Sasa,
director/producer of Fire Under the Snow.

Synopsis: The Venerable Palden Gyatso, a Buddhist monk since
childhood, was arrested by the Chinese Communist Army in 1959. He
spent 33 years in prison for the "crime" of demonstrating peacefully.
He was starved and tortured. His nation and culture were destroyed,
his teachers, friends and family displaced, jailed or killed under
Chinese occupation. Despite this, he remained unbroken, and kept the
flame of his spirit ablaze.

IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Mokoto Sasa: I always wanted to make my first film before I became
30. Turned out, that was not possible. I started helping on my
friend's documentary film during graduate school, and I thought that
documentary filmmaking would be cheaper and more realistic to make
than a narrative film. So, I picked up a camera and made a short
"documentary" for my Avid class assignment. It was an extremely
personal documentary, and I really don't want to show it to anyone
now. But, I found that I really liked being behind the camera and
shooting whatever is happening in front of my eyes. Through the lens,
the world looks so different and that fact gave me hope for life. So,
I stuck to it.

IDA: What inspired you to make Fire Under the Snow?

MS: My subject, the imprisoned Tibetan monk. Palden Gyatso's story
helped me to survive a dark time in my life when I started living in
New York City 11 years ago. And I wanted to tell his story for more people.

IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this
film, and how did you overcome them?

MS: Wow. As you can imagine, there were several. Here's somewhat of a

A. Working on a foreign subject in a foreign language. There's no
magic! We just had to be patient about it. And we had great translators.

B. Finance-a continuous obstacle for filmmakers. I just kept trying
and trying again and again...until I was able to get the funding I
needed. Perseverance and determination helped.

C. Developing story structure; trying not to make another Tibet
story, but creating a Tibet story through life of Palden
Gyatso...Listening and not listening to feedback; being
discretionary...Millions of discussions with my editor (with
occasional "healthy" fights)...Trying, failing and trying
again...Writing...Sleepless nights...

And how did I overcome those challenges and obstacles?
Yoga...Reflecting on Palden's amazing life: 33 years in prison.

IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the
pre-production, production and post-production processes?

MS: The method and approach kept changing, but the overall vision was
unchanged. But I can only say that after having completed the film.

IDA: As you've screened Fire Under the Snow-whether on the festival
circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms-how have audiences
reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected
about their reactions?

MS: It has been an overwhelming experience. I feel that most
audiences got the same inspiration that I had when I discovered
Palden's story. At one of the screenings at the Tribeca Film
Festival, at the end of the Q&A, a young Tibetan girl ran up to
Palden Gyatso, crying, and hugged him. She couldn't speak and just
kept crying on Palden's shoulder. He patted her shoulder gently. It
turned out that she had a brother who was imprisoned right after the
recent uprising in Tibet. It continues to be an amazing experience
seeing the film with an audience.

IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

MS: Doc film: I Am Cuba
Doc filmmaker: Aleksandr Sokurov
I love Krzysztof Kieslowski films, even though he is not a doc
filmmaker. He has inspired me to make a film.

Fire Under the Snow will be screening at the Village East Cinema in
New York and the Arclight Theater in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

The film is showing at:
ArcLight Sherman Oaks
15301 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403

Date:             Time:
Fri Aug 22, 2008  12:10PM  6:00PM
Sat Aug 23, 2008   2:10PM  8:00PM
Sun Aug 24, 2008   4:00PM  9:40PM
Mon Aug 25, 2008  12:10PM  6:00PM
Tue Aug 26, 2008   2:10PM  8:00PM
Wed Aug 27, 2008   4:00PM  9:40PM
Thu Aug 28, 2008  12:10PM  6:00PM

For more information about the film or about DocuWeek, please visit:

I hope you can make it, its an incredible film and couldn't have been
released at a more appropriate time.

Megan Worthington
Program & Event Assistant
International Documentary Association
1201 West 5th Street
Suite M320
Los Angeles, CA 90017
t. 213. 534 .3600
f. 213. 534.3610
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