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<-Back to WTN Archives A visit to the Argentine set of 'Seven Years in Tibet
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World Tibet Network News

Thursday, May 15, 1997

5. A visit to the Argentine set of 'Seven Years in Tibet

19 May 1997
by Jeff Giles

Bringing a herd of yaks to Argentina is not easy. First you must negotiate
with an eccentric yak breeder in Montana: you tell him you're making a
movie about the famed Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer, and he
says you can have the yaks for flee if you cast Demi Moore. No? Fine,
they're $3,600 apiece. Now you must procure a passport for each yak, and
yak passports are not like people passports: you'll need three photographs
of every yak's head (a front view and both profiles), as well as a print of
his or her muzzle. By the time your herd has landed in Argentina, some of
them 'will be pregnant-hell, its a long flight-but your mind will be
elsewhere because now it's time to sneak your star into the country.
Importing yaks is a nightmare. Importing Brad Pitt is somewhat more

To understand Argentina's ardor for Pitt is to understand not only the
actor's celebrity but also the paucity of movie stars who ordinarily pass
through In September, Pitt flew into Buenos Aires International, where
there was pandemonium despite the best intentions of the Ministry of the
Interior. He then took off for Mendoza in the president's jet. Eventually,
he reached the movie set in remote Uspallata, and found he was so famous he
couldn't walk down the streets in a place so small it hardly had streets.
One night in a local restaurant, a pack of girls banged on the window a
foot from his table. For the rest of his stay, he was more or less under
house arrest.

Still, Pitt says he hasn't had this much fun in ages. He's playing Harrer
in Jean Jacques Annauds "Seven Years in Tibet," due out later this year,
with the Andes standing in for the Himalayas. The movie follows Harrer as
he escapes from an Allied prison camp in India during World War II, bluffs
his way into Tibet and winds up tutoring the young Dalai Lama not long
before China drives him into exile. "Seven Years" is based on Harrer's
best-selling memoir. It's a creepily unemotional book-"Apparently it's even
worse in German," says a crew member-but screen-writer Becky Johnston has
unearthed a human being as well as an adventure.

Only a dictator or a saint could direct a movie like "Seven Years"-16
languages are spoken on the set-and the Frenchman Annaud tilts toward the
latter. One morning at 5:30, crew members straggle up a rock"' hill to
shoot a funeral-pyre scene. It is pitch black and freezing. "Hello, lazy
ones," Annaud chirps, dashing by. With no flashlights, the crew just
follows his bright mop of silver white hair up the hill.

"Seven Years" was supposed to be shot in India. But the Indian government
feared antagonizing China, and rejected the project after encourage the
producers to bum a couple of million dollars. Meanwhile, "Seven Years" was
delayed because Pitt was working on a thriller, "The Devil's Own." By fall'
Pitt was finally helped up in a cabin in Uspallata, smoking Camels and
eating Twizzlers.

Tibetans are thrilled Pitt is making a movie even peripherally about their
plight. "Half of the Tibetan population is here and half of it is in
Morocco making [Martin Scorsese's] 'Kundun'," says B. D. Wong, who plays
the controversial Tibetan official who brokered the surrender to China .
"And there's a fantastic hot line." Later the real Dalai Lama's sister,
Jetsun Pema, stands in a hotel lobby, beaming. Pema is playing her own
mother in "Seven Years." Her daughter is playing the mine role in "Kundun."
Which is to say: she's playing her mother's mother. Pema shows off a photo
of her daughter in costume. "She called me last night, yes?" Pema says.
"She said, 'The scene I just played? I was pregnant with you!"

Watching Pitt huddle with his accent coach-watching him try to -this
American charisma onto this international period piece-you wonder if he's
in over his head But you never wonder if his intentions are good. "Brad
understands Hollywood," says Annaud. "He understands that all those people
who are rich and famous go from the glorious party straight to the analyst.
Why? They don't respect themselves. They became famous doing s--t Brad
doesn't want that." Annaud hopes the world wants something better, too-and
so do hundreds of other creatures, great and small. Yaks do not get
passports for nothing.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Scorsese raps China for Cannes directors' ban (Reuter)
  2. Finland prison chief impressed by China jails (Reuter)
  3. France's Chirac urged to raise rights in China (Reuter)
  4. Voice of Tibets 1st Anniversary (VOT)
  5. A visit to the Argentine set of 'Seven Years in Tibet

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