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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."

"The Sun Behind the Clouds": The Tibet film China loves to hate

April 4, 2010

Andrew O'Hehir
www.Salon.com Mar 31, 2010
Beijing went to war, oddly, over an intriguing film that explores divisions
between Tibetans and the Dalai Lama By Andrew O'Hehir

It isn't literally true that there's a new documentary about Tibet every six
weeks, but it does kind of feel that way. What sets apart "The Sun Behind
the Clouds," made by the Tibetan-Indian filmmaking duo Ritu Sarin and
Tenzing Sonam, is both context and content. The film includes extensive
interviews with the Dalai Lama, who is less circumspect than usual about the
political and moral challenges facing his "Middle Way" strategy of arguing
for greater Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule. Sarin and Sonam also lift
the veil on potentially explosive divisions within the Tibetan exile
community, which is torn between spiritual and cultural loyalty to the Dalai
Lama and a widespread longing for true independence. (The filmmakers clearly
belong to the pro-independence camp.)

This film also became the centerpiece of an altercation last year between
famously prickly Chinese film authorities and the Western movie marketplace.
After "The Sun Behind the Clouds" was booked at the Palm Springs
International Film Festival, the Chinese government -- demonstrating both
intolerance and a tin ear for P.R. -- pulled two much-anticipated films from
the festival. For mysterious reasons, one of those Chinese movies, "City of
Life and Death," a fictional story about the notorious Rape of Nanking in
1937, was then yanked from its American theatrical premiere at New York's
Film Forum -- whose programmers replaced it with the film that had caused
the ruckus in the first place.

Of course, the Chinese have long been completely unwilling to discuss the
Tibet question -- which, when you think about it, reduces the question of
what strategy the Tibetan movement should adopt to an arid philosophical
point. There are reasons why the Beijing regime is so thin-skinned, as we
see in "The Sun Behind the Clouds." The explosive Tibetan uprising of early
2008 put the lie to Chinese claims that their campaign of economic
development and cultural assimilation had quelled both nationalism and
discontent, and it left government spokespeople, in the weeks before the
Beijing Olympics, uttering the worst kinds of warmed-over Mao Zedong talking
points about the "Dalai clique" and its tradition of "theocratic serfdom."

As Sarin and Tenzing also make clear, there's a germ of truth behind the
Chinese propaganda. The Dalai Lama himself has often decried Tibet's
backward, feudal tradition -- but then, he's both a product and a symbol of
that tradition. As in the Palestinian case, younger Tibetans who've lived
their whole lives in exile are increasingly radicalized, while the Chinese
continue to torture and imprison dissidents inside Tibet and the Dalai
Lama's reasonable, enlightened middle-ground position is supported by
international political leaders but almost no real people. Nobody thinks
this issue is going away, and the Dalai Lama has already prepared Tibetans
for the likelihood that his reincarnate successor will be born outside
Tibet. The Chinese seem prepared to outwait this Dalai Lama, the next one
and the one after that.

"The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom" is now playing at
Film Forum in New York, with wider release to follow.
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