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'The Sun Behind the Clouds' captures complexity of Tibetan struggle

August 9, 2010

By ROB THOMAS, rthomas@madison.com
The Capital Times
August 6, 2010

THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS
3 stars
Stars: The Dalai Lama, Tenzing Sonam
Rated: Not rated
How long: 1:19
Opens: Friday
Where: Sundance
For fans of: "Dalai Lama Renaissance," "Kundun," bald men in robes.

Movies about the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan
struggle for independence usually roll through
Madison every year or so. The quality varies, but
the message remains the same, in full-throated
support of Tibet and its quest for liberation from Chinese rule.

So it was refreshing to come across the new
documentary "The Sun Behind the Clouds," which
shows that the issue isn't quite that simple.

To be sure, filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing
Sonam are firmly in Tibet's camp; the film's
subtitle is "Tibet's Struggle for Freedom." The
film looks at how the Chinese government has
taken a heavy hand to Tibet since it took control
in 1959, and shows us secret footage of Tibetan
protesters being roughed up by police, along with
harsh public pronouncements that leave no doubt
as to the country's official position. China
believes Tibet belongs to China, to do with what it will.

But "The Sun Behind the Clouds" goes beyond that
basic black-and-white struggle, detailing a
growing conflict within Tibet over how to respond
to China. And it's a schism that, surprisingly,
puts the Dalai Lama on one side and much of the Tibetan people on the other.

The exiled Dalai Lama, eternally committed to the
idea of peaceful negotiation, supports what is
known as a "Middle Way" solution: Tibet would
still be a province of China, but would be given
great autonomy under that rule to determine its own future.

So far, it has found little traction with Chinese
officials, who don't want to cede any sort of
authority. So there's a growing movement within
Tibet's population of six million people to push
for full independence. But the Dalai Lama won't
openly support such a defiant, militant stance.

The filmmakers conducted extensive interviews
with the Dalai Lama, as well as Tibetan
supporters living in exile. While one side won't
publicly oppose the other, you can sense the
tension between the two camps, as the supporters
of full independence delicately suggest that the
Dalai Lama needs to throw his support behind
independence as his "legacy" -- i.e., before he
dies. The Dalai Lama, they suggest, is caught
between his role as a leader of the Tibetan
people and as the spiritual leader for all
Buddhists, and the split is becoming untenable.

As a backdrop to this struggle, Sarin and Sonam
look at the rise in worldwide protests that
occurred in 2008 surrounding Beijing hosting the
Olympic Games. We see both pro-Tibet and
pro-China demonstrators in the streets of San
Francisco, and the filmmakers make time to let
both weigh in on the issue. And we also see a
group of Tibetan supporters making an arduous
2,500-mile journey through India to the Tibetan
border as a statement of protest.

"The Sun Behind the Clouds" obviously has an
agenda, and has ruffled China's feathers to the
point that China withdrew two of its films from
the Palm Springs International Film Festival
earlier this year because "Sun" was part of it.
But this is a thoughtful and instructive
documentary even for those who think they understand the Tibetan dilemma.
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