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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The Grasslands - a film by Pema Tsetan

August 5, 2010

Tenzin Dickyi
Tibet Writes
July 28, 2010

On Saturday I watched a short film: The
Grasslands by Pema Tseden. It is Pema Tseden’s
student film, and Latse Contemporary Tibetan
Library* in the West Village has a copy in their video archives.

Pema Tseden -- or Wanma Caidan as the pinyin
transliteration has it so awkwardly -- is a
talented Tibetan filmmaker who studied at the
Beijing Film Academy and has made two feature
films in recent years. I have seen both, The
Silent Holy Stones and The Search. They are both
amazing and excellent… I am deeply in love with
The Search. So I was curious to see his student
film, curious to see how his directorial vision
has evolved, curious to see whether his master
talent so clearly displayed in every frame of The
Search is manifest in this his first creation.

And yes, yes, it is. The Grasslands is short,
only about twenty minutes or so. The film opens
with a simple frame: an old couple trekking
across the empty grassland under a blue sky. They
are Aku Tsendruk, a stubborn old man who just
can’t bear any wrongs done to him, and his wife
Ama Tsomo, an even older woman who is curled into
herself with age and resignation, a passive
bystander who is swept in the drift of the
current churned up by her aggressive husband.

They are headed to the next nomadic settlement
over, to confront three young men who have stolen
Ama Tsomo’s yak. As they go on, we learn that the
yak is a “liberated” yak; which means that Ama
Tsomo had released this yak from slaughter and
the yak was a free animal until its theft. So the
thieves had compounded their crime which had
become a wrong not just against morality but against dharma.

When Aku Tsendruk and Ama Tsomo reach their old
friend Dorlo’s tent, his grown son Juga, a pipe
smoking thick-set type with streaming highlander
hair, is dispatched to fetch the three men. An
elaborate ceremony of oaths follow and the film
wraps with a small twist that manages to convince
and satisfy without being either surprising or
predictable. The director is talented like that.

After I watched the film, I felt that the film
was not about Aku Tsendruk and Ama Tsomo, nor
about the other people in the film so much as it
is about a way of life — a way of life where you
can take a man’s word when he swears, a way of
life where people still “liberate” their prized
yaks, a way of life where a radio is as close as
the outside world gets to you. It’s about the
land that not only sustains but rather reinforces
this way of life — the immense rolling plains and
mountains that are inseparable from the people who live there.

It’s worth seeing. It’s very worth seeing. Ok
it’s worth the trek all the way Latse. Need I say more?
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