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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?"

"Tibet Film Festival 2009" to Kick-off on 4 March in London

March 5, 2009

Tibet Custom (UK)
March 3 2009

Dharamshala -- To mark the 50th years in exile for the Tibetan community, London-based Through an Exile Lens Project and Tibet House Trust will jointly organise the "Tibet Film Festival 2009 – Images and Reflections on Tibet" across the United Kingdom, starting 4 March.

Joanna Lumley, actress and long-term champion of human rights causes, will launch the film festival at the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday, 4 March.

The festival then goes on tour to Oxford, Exeter, Newcastle, Southampton, Sheffield, Glasgow, Hebden Bridge, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Bristol and Manchester until May.

The festival largely focuses on new films made by independent film makers, both Tibetan and from around the world. The festival line-up comprises documentaries filmed undercover in Tibet, material to emerge from both in and outside Tibet in response to the widespread protests which swept across the Tibetan Plateau in 2008 and films that shed light on the little understood system of reincarnation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The programme also includes films exploring Tibet in relation to its neighbours, particularly India and Nepal.

Highlights of the festival include a number of UK films and a specially curated compilation of rarely seen archive footage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, prior to March 1959 when he visited the great monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden to take his examinations in Buddhist theology. The final examination took place in Lhasa during the Tibetan New Year festival of 1959, just weeks before he was forced to escape into exile to India.

The festival aims to explore the many diverse and intricate aspects of the Tibet issue, whilst equally seeking to stimulate broader discussions on human rights, conflict, freedom and cultural identity within a global context.

The organisers said: "The rich and vibrant Tibetan culture is a part of our common world heritage and has the potential to serve humanity at large. In view of the gravity of the situation in Tibet and the challenges faced by Tibetans, we welcome your thoughts, prayers and support in helping us to fulfill the humane needs of the Tibetan people and in our continued efforts to sustain and keep the Tibetan culture alive."

The festival programme is divided into the following sections (films featuring in each section appear in brackets below).


2008 - A Year in Images

2008 was a significant year for Tibet with the most widespread and sustained protests in Tibet by Tibetans against China’s rule witnessed in nearly half a century. Last year also saw many protests worldwide led by Tibetans in exile and supporters of the Tibetan cause. A wealth of visual material began to emerge against the backdrop of these momentous events. This strand brings together some of this material, evoking the reasons why the Tibet issue is so crucial within an international context today.

* Tibet’s Cry For Freedom
Lara Damiani; Australia 2008; 52 mins; English/Tibetan/Mandarin with English subtitles

Filmed over the course of a year, from March 2007 to March 2008, this film offers an in-depth account of Tibet’s history and its present, exploring many of the human rights and environmental issues facing Tibet today as a result of more than 50 years of Chinese occupation. This is one of the most recent and comprehensive overviews of the Tibet issue and its current situation.

* The Return March to Tibet
Legdup Tsering/Tenzin Palkyi (Tibetan’s People Uprising Movement)
India 2008; 42 mins; Tibetan with English subtitles I UK PREMIERE

On 10th March 2008, 101 Tibetan exiles together with a number of international supporters set off from Dharamsala on an epic march back to Tibet. From the heat of the lowlands to the cooler climes of the Indian Himalayas, the marchers traversed some of the northern states of India whilst encountering a number of obstacles along the way. Nevertheless, as this emotional account shows, their courage anmd determination to complete the journey never waned.

* The Unwinking Gaze
Joshua Dugdale; UK 2008; 70 mins; English/Tibetan with English subtitles; Cert PG

This film offers a unique portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, and one of the leading moral and spiritual authorities in the world today. Filmed over three years with unprecedented access, The Unwinking Gaze provides a behind-the-scenes insight into His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s work towards a peaceful resolution of the Tibet issue through dialogue with the Chinese Government.

Nominated for Best Film - Foreign Press Association Awards 2008

* Jigdrel: Leaving Fear Behind
Dhondup Wangchen/Jigme Gyatso; Tibet 2008; 25 mins; Tibetan with English subtitles

Jigdrel is the Tibetan word meaning "leaving fear behind." First-time filmmaker, Dhondup Wangchen and his assistant Jigme Gyatso, two Tibetans living in Tibet, undertook a journey ending in early 2008 which saw them film Tibetans talking about their grievances about Chinese rule of Tibet, their faith and devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and their thoughts on the then upcoming Beijing Olympic Games. In their desire to let the world know of their plight, most interviewees chose not to conceal their identities, thus risking imprisonment and their lives in a system where criticism of China’s rule is not tolerated. The footage was smuggled out of Tibet and the filmmakers were both subsequently arrested and tortured. Dhondup Wangchen remains in prison today. This is a powerful and revealing collection of views of ordinary Tibetans in what is the most significant visual material to come out of Tibet in recent times.

Into Tibet

This range of films takes us into Tibet, to expore a land which has long captured the imagination whilst equally exposing the true realities of life for the Tibetan people.

* What Remains of Us
Francois Prevost/Hugh Latulippe; Canada 2004; 77 mins; English/Tibetan with English subtitles

Kalsang Dolma, a Tibetan-Canadian born in exile, travels to Tibet with a video recorded message of hope from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the people of Tibet. Through recording the reactions of Tibetans hearing His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s message, the film highlights the angst and trauma that permeates the lives of Tibetans living under authoritarian Chinese Communist rule. This multi-award winning film, shot secretly over almost a decade, shows Tibetans both young and old, speaking on camera despite the risk of imprisonment, of their undiminished devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their spiritual and temporal leader and praying for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and swift return to Tibet.

Winner - Audience Award, Atlantic Film Festival 2004

Winner - Hollywood Discovery Award, Hollywood Film Festivals 2004

Winner - Most Popular Canadian Film, Vancouver International Film Festival 2004

* Undercover in Tibet
Jezza Neumann; UK 2008; 51 mins; English/Tibetan with English subtitles

Risking imprisonment and deportation, young exiled Tibetan Tash Despa returns to the homeland he risked his life to escape 12 years ago with award-winning BAFTA nominated documentary maker Jezza Neumann. Secretly filming inside Tibet, they reveal the hidden realities of life in Tibet under Chinese occupation.

Winner - Current Affairs International Award, Royal Television Society Televison Journalism Awards 2008

Nominated for Best Documentary Award - Broadcast Awards 2009

Nominated for Impact Award - Rory Peck Awards 2008

* Tintin in Tibet
Stephane Bernasconi; France 1991/1992; 60 mins; Cert U

Tintin, and his dog Snowy, along with Captain Haddock set out on a rescue mission in the Himalayas in Tibet to save his Chinese friend, Chang Chong-Chen. Tintin has a vivid dream in which Chang survived a plance crash in Tibet. When he learns the next day that Chang was in fact on a plane that crashed there, they set off in search of Tintin’s missing friend. For many who read Herge’s original book, fiurst published in 1960, this was a first introduction to Tibet’s majestic Himalayan landscape.

Crossing Borders, Crossing Cultures

Tibet has long held strong cultural and historical links with its neighbours, not least India from where Buddhism was brought to Tibet. These films explore Tibet’s heritage in connection with its links to other regions in South, Central and East Asia whilst equally taking a look at the environmental and geo-political significance of its unique geographical position as the "roof of the world."

* Asiemut
Olivier Higgins/Melanie Carrier; Canada 2006; 57 mins; English/French with English subtitles

Olivier Higgins and Melanie Carrier undertook an epic journey, cycling a distance of 8,000 kilometres from the plains of Mongolia, through the deserts of Eastern Turkistan (Chinese: Xinjiang), into the spectacular Himalayas in Tibet and Nepal and ending in Kolkata, India. The title comes from the term “azimuth”, the name given to the direction we take from a compass. These are two westetrn nomads, encountering a number of obstacles along the way on a path of discovery in which they question, do we not all have a common azimuth?Asiemut has won 35 different awards at various film festivals internationally, the most recent including:Grand Prix de tous les Festivals, Cervino CineMountain Film Fest, Italy 2008Public Grand Prize, Larochelle Adventure Film Festival, France 2008Jury’s Special Prize, Danish Adventure Film Festival, Denmark 2007

* Eclipsed: The Tragedy of Tibet
Anshul Uniyal/Tarini Mehta; India 2007; 24 mins

This documentary focuses on the environmental and political reasons why India should be concerned with the Tibet issue. Stunning visuals, archive footage and thought-provoking interviews with a range of academics explore the geo-political significance of Tibet’s ties with India and offer an insight into the inherent links between these two great cultures.Tibet: Murder in the SnowMark Gould I Australia 2008 I 52 mins I English/Tibetan with English subtitlesEvery year, around 2,500 Tibetans escape from Tibet by making the dangerous crossing over the Himalayas in the hope  of seeing His Holiness the Dalai Lama in India and to attend Tibetan schools or monasteries in exile. In September 2006, at the 6,000 metre high Nangpa La, a pass linking Tibet to Nepal, several teams of international mountaineers on the Nepalese side witnessed the Chinese border police shooting at a group of Tibetans attempting to escape from Tibet. One of the Tibetans, 17-year old nun Kelsang Namtso, was shot dead and a number of others arrested by the Chinese border police. This film retells the story of this tragic incident through interviews with the Tibetans who made it into exile and with some of the mountaineers. The footage of the shooting filmed by Sergiu Matei, Romanian climber and cameraman, subsequently made headline news the world over.Spot the DifferenceVivek Mohan I India 2006 I 29 mins I English/Hindi with English subtitles

This documentary follows the everyday lives of two families living in Shimla, India - one Chinese and the other Tibetan, in an attempt to show that economic well-being and peaceful coexistence are more important than political and religious differences.

Shorts: Youth, Creativity and Diversity in Exile

For Tibetan youth in exile, creativity has become a powerful tool for individual and collective expression. This programme of short films looks at how youth, creativity and diversity have come to shape the Tibetan exile community, whilst also showcasing emerging talent in exile.

Art in Exile

Nidhi Tuli/Ashraf Abbas I India 2006 I 27 mins I English/Tibetan/Hindi with English subtitles

From prolific activist poet Tenzin Tsundue to offbeat rock band JJI Brothers to the traditional arts institutes of Norbulingka and the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, this documentary looks at the role of art in the creation and preservation of culture and identity for Tibetans living in exile.

* Prayers Answered
Geleck Palsang I India 2007 I 30 mins I Tibetan with English subtitles

In 2005, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited the village Turtuk in a little known region in the north east of India. This area is a melting pot of cultures and with its sensitive border location between Pakistan and Tibet, this mountainous village is virtually cut off from the rest of the world. Struck by the poverty in the village, His Holiness the Dalai Lama offered local children the chance for a better education at the Tibetan Children’s Village in Leh, Ladakh (the most northern eastern state of India). This is the emotional story of these children as they set off for their new school, leaving their families behind.

Geleck Palsang studied film at the Asian School of Media Studies, India.

* History of Momos
Tenzin Tsetan Choklay; South Korea 2007; 11 mins; Korean with English subtitles

A touching short film about the making of the much-loved Tibetan delicacy, momos (steam cooked dumplings).

Tenzin Tsetan Choklay studied screenwriting and directing at the Korean Academy of Film Arts in Seoul, South Korea’s national film school.

* A Brief History of Life
Tenzin Jangchup; Canada 2007; 6 mins

Young Tibetan filmmaker Tenzin Jangchup tells his story from growing up in exile in India to moving to Canada as a young adult.

Tenzin Jangchup is currently studying photography at Dawson College, Montreal, Canada.

Grand Jury Prize Winner - Best Documentary, Radio Canada International Digital Diversity competition 2007

* Tsampa to Pizza
Sonam Tseten; India 2006; 44 mins; English/Tibetan with English subtitles

A coming of age drama about two Tibetan college friends in Delhi, the capital of India, who spend more time partying than in the lecture hall until a chance encounter with an Indian supporter of the Tibetan cause leads them on a journey of discovery into their past and a reassessment of their present.

Sonam Tseten studied mass communications in Pune, India, and now works for Indian national television channel NDTV.

Bridges to Understanding

The Tibetans Children’s Village (TCV) is a thriving educational community for Tibetan children in exile which was established in 1962. At the TCV school in Dharamsala, a photography club was set up as part of the Bridges to Understanding project (based in Seattle, US) which connects young people worldwide through digital storytelling. The resulting work provides a fresh and fascinating insight into life in exile seen through the eyes of Tibetan youngsters.

* Butter Lamp
TCV; India 2008; 5 mins

A short film on the symbolism of lighting butter lamps as representing compassion, hope, courage and wisdom in Buddhist culture.

* The Dark Corridor
TCV; India 2008; 2 mins

A brief look at life at TCV, Dharamsala.

* Garbages
TCV; India 2007; 5 mins

A look at environmental issues affecting the Dharamsala community.

* A Journey to Happiness
TCV; India 2007; 6 mins

How Buddhism shapes the lives of Tibetan youngsters in exile.

* Kitchen Duty
TCV; India 2007; 5 mins

Kitchen Duty for the students at TCV, Dharamsala.

* What Courage Means to Me
TCV; India 2008; 4 mins

How courage has played a role in the story of a young Tibetan who recently escaped into exile.

Past, Present and Future...

This selection of films links Tibet’s past, present and future through the exploration of cultural and religious traditions and practices, both prior to 1959 and today. These films highlight Tibet’s rich cultural heritage and its continued relevance to the people of Tibet.

* His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, prior to March 1959
Courtesy of British Film Institute (BFI); 60 mins

The highlight of this programme of archival material, specially curated for this festival by the BFI, is the rarely seen film Dalai Lama Examinations taken during His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s final year in Tibet prior to his March 1959 escape to India. The film is by Jigme Taring, an official of the Tibetan Government, who accompanied His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he visited the great monasteries of Drepung, Sera and Ganden to take his examinations in Buddhist theology. The final examination took place in Lhasa during the Tibetan New Year festival of 1959. A short selection of extracts from the Tibetan collection held at the BFI national archive is included to contextualise the footage and to illustrate the legacy contacined within the images.

* The Thread of Karma
Ritu Sarin/Tenzing Sonam; India 2007; 50 mins; English/Tibetan with English subtitles; UK PREMIERE

Ritu Sarin’s and Tenzing Sonam’s film The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche (1991) told the story of the search for the reincarnation of the revered lama and former abbot of Drepung, Tibet’s largest monastery, following his death in exile in India. This follow up film revisits Phara Khentrul Rinpoche, the reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche, 16 years later at Drepung monastery in South India and offers a glimpse into the life of a young lama preparing to continue the work of his previous incarnation. The film explores Phara Khentrul Rinpoche’s relationship with the two people closest to him, his spiritual teacher and his attendant Choenzey, both of whom were disciples of Khensur Rinpoche and are, therefore, connected to him from his previous life.

* Unmistaken Child
Nati Baratz; Israel 2008 I 102 mins; English/Tibetan/Hindi/Nepali with English subtitles; UK PREMIERE

This visually stunning and emotionally gripping documentary chronicles the search by Tenzin Zopa, a devoted disciple, for the reincarnation for his revered Tibetan Buddhist religious master, Lama Konchog, who spent 26 years in meditation in mountain hermitages and passed away in 2001 at the age of 84. Guided by astrological readings, divinations and the senior lamas of the Kopan Monastery in Nepal, Tenzin Zopa travels by helicopter, horseback and on foot as his sacred quest takes him to remote Tibetan villages in the mountains of Nepal. As an apparent contender emerges, the film follows the young boy as he undergoes the mysterious procedures and tests that need to be passed in order to confirm the reincarnation. Unmistaken Child sheds light on a rarely filmed aspect of Tibetan Buddhism, and along the way we also see Tenzin Zopa embark on his own journey of self-discovery.

Official Selection - Berlinale 2009
Official Selection - Toronto Film Festival 2008
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