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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."

Tears for slain Tibetan nun

February 19, 2009

Larry Schwartz
The Age, Australia February 19, 2009

FILMMAKER Sally Ingleton has a portrait on the wall in her Brunswick
office of a 17-year-old Tibetan nun shot dead by Chinese border police
while trying to escape to Nepal a few years ago.

"We didn't have any photographs of her," says Ingleton, who has produced
a documentary on the September 2006 incident in which international
climbers looked on as the police fired on more than 70 young Tibetans
fleeing across an ancient trade route.

The portrait is a photocopy of a drawing she has of orange-robed Kelsang
Namtso. It was sketched by her close friend, Dolma Palki, forced to
leave Namtso behind in the snow at the 6000-metre Nangpa Pass.

"Getting the kids to draw her was a great idea," Ingleton says of a
suggestion by the film's director, Mark Gould, that some of the 41 who
reportedly escaped the border guards and reached Dharamsala, in India,
create pictures of the teenage nun.

Ingleton was alerted to the incident in which 32 were caught weeks
later. She was in London to discuss a film on an art program to help
Tibetan refugees cope with the trauma of exile, when an organiser asked
if she had heard that climbers at 9000-metre Mount Cho Oyu had witnessed
the killing and at least one had filmed the attack.

The filmmaker was excited at the prospect of a fresh way to tell the
story of the persecution of the Tibetans. "It is like an adrenalin
rush," she says of the prospect of a compelling narrative on some of the
estimated 2500 who flee every year.

She approached Gould at a conference in Adelaide in 2007 after being
told of the Sydney director's love of the region. He has directed
several documentaries, including A Pig, a Chicken and a Bag of Rice,
about a Himalayan wedding, for ABC TV.

Ingleton persevered, though many of the climbers who made it to the base
camp and witnessed the incident were reluctant to talk. She was
particularly keen to feature two of the men: Romanian TV cameraman
Sergiu Matei, who began to film the moment he heard the crack of assault
rifles and provided the first documentary evidence of such an incident;
and Luis Benitez, then a mountain guide from Colorado, who emailed a
popular climbing website his account from the mountain.

They had engaged an agent to negotiate a deal for a feature film. "The
Hollywood deal became a bit of a spanner in the works for quite a few
months," Ingleton says.

Both eventually agreed to be interviewed. Matei has received standard
payment for use of his footage, Benitez a token fee, and their agent has
indicated the documentary will probably boost the chances of a feature film.

Several climbing companies declined to co-operate because they didn't
want to jeopardise their businesses, which rely on Chinese authorities
for access to the mountain.

"We want every person who sees the film to think, 'What would I have
done if I'd been in that situation?"' the filmmaker says of the decision
to alert the world.

"Even in the conversations I have had with friends, it's actually split
down the middle. Some have said: 'I would have waited until I got down
the mountain or out of the country.' But other friends have gone: 'I'd
be right on the blower."'

Ingleton has been producing and directing films for about 25 years. Her
most recent work, Seed Hunter, follows an Australian scientist to
central Asia to find rare plants whose genes may help save our food from
climate change.

She co-founded 360 Degree Films production company a few years ago. She
says the $700,000 budget for the Tibetan film was "decent for what we
had to do" - costs included about $35,000 for archival footage and
filming in India, Nepal, Tibet, Romania, America, England, Slovenia,
Denmark and Australia.

Some scenes were filmed with some of the escapees in a snowy landscape a
seven-hour trek from Dharamsala.

Jamyang Samten, just 14 when arrested at the pass, was interrogated and
tortured before being released.

He fled again and helped Gould film a reconstruction of his torture with
actors from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts.

Ingleton will fly to India for a special screening in Dharamsala later
this month. She presented a copy of the film to the Dalai Lama during a
human rights conference in Warsaw last December.

Also there was Sergiu Matei. When they met the Tibetan leader in his
hotel suite, he playfully yanked the larrikin cameraman's goatee and
thanked him for what he had done.

Tibet: Murder in the Snow screens tonight at 8.30pm on SBS.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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