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Viewing Tibet

February 21, 2010

by Williams Cole
The Brooklyn Rail
February 18, 2010

The Dalai Lama’s visit to the White House in
mid-February has brought the plight of Tibet back
into the news. Yet even when that story does
resurface, there is rarely much insightful
explanation.  That’s what is great about young
filmmakers like Veronica Jerry Mukhia, who is of
Nepalese heritage and currently living in
NYC.  Her film Rangzen! (Independence) is an
original and insightful introduction to the issue
of Tibetan independence. Meanwhile, her work
Reflections is a more meditative piece,
complementing the historical analysis of Rangzen!
with a philosophical assessment of the nature of storytelling.

What’s important to note about Rangzen! is that,
rather than launch a simplistic diatribe against
China, Mukhia introduces the history through
Jamyang Norbu, a passionate Tibetan
author/activist in the exile community, and Tom
Gunfield, a dispassionate author and historian
with expertise in the subject.  The two have a
conversation while Mukhia graphically represents
the events of March 2008 when protests markedly
flared up in Lassa.  While protests take place on
most anniversaries of the Chinese takeover, that
year ordinary Tibetans joined ranks with
monks—the resulting violence and Chinese
crackdown led to protests all over the world,
including in New York City.  Norbu makes forceful
points about Tibetan independence and stresses
that, even though philosophically non-violent,
the Tibetan movement is still made up of
frustrated human beings, noting that “trauma” can
lead to important change. Meanwhile, Professor
Gunfield offers a convincing historical analysis
of the relationship between China and Tibet. In
his view, it has long been “ambiguous,” with
Tibet always somewhat independent from the power structure of China.

Mukhia’s other short film, Reflections, shows how
she can render a tone-poem of sorts out of very
well-executed images of nature (many so skillful
you could see them used in an advertisement.)
These are complemented by her narration of
observations about and around nature that express
Buddhist ideas regarding a certain understanding
and silence. The intrinsic beauty of nature, she
says, can in itself constitute a story.  Part of
the short film elicits mediation specifically on
light and shadows and the narrator asks, “Do we
really understand stories?”  While Buddhist, this
also reminds one of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave
where shadows had a certain meaning based in a
perception of what was making them when, in fact,
they could be something very different.

The American cultural scene has a long and
vibrant history (it might be, in fact, its
defining history) of the knowledge, vision, and
sensibilities of non-natives contributing to its
vitality.  What is important about Mukhia’s work
is that she represents a working filmmaker
proficient in the craft who is working in America
and contributing her unique vision to inform
American culture—something that a born and bred US citizen cannot do.

For more on Mukhia’s work, go to www.veronicajerrymukhia.com
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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