Summaries of the films : Free Spirit Film Festival 2008 — 18 to 25 November
Uprising in Tibet 2008
Compiled by Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy
Tibet/India 2008 | Documentary | 49 min | English
Every year Tibetans solemnly observe 10 March as the National Uprising Day. However, 10 March 2008 is distinctive by the fact that it sparked an unprecedented level of protests against the Chinese rule in Tibet. The series of protests in Tibet this spring clearly showed Tibetan people's popular revolt against the 50 years of Chinese misrule on the plateau which is marked by gross violation of human rights, incompetent development policies, destruction of the environment and marginalization of the Tibetans in their own land.
Altogether over 200 separate protests were documented spanning over 75 counties in the so-called "Tibet Autonomous Region" ("TAR") and the Tibetan areas outside the "TAR"; Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. China's official state media confirmed the arrest of 6500 Tibetans although the actual figure of arrest is expected to be higher.
Around 200 Tibetans have died in the protests and thousands of have disappeared.
Requests of visit to Tibet by NGOs, media, UN officials and diplomats have all been denied by the People's Republic of China. Clearly the government is busy burying the ugly facts behind closed doors. And tragically and unfortunately we may never know the full scale of the sacrifices made by the Tibetan people inside Tibet this spring in their peaceful struggle for freedom, justice and human rights.
The last great protests took place in Tibet the late '80s and the early '90s which saw thousands of Tibetans showing their resentment against the Chinese government. Protests then were largely concentrated in the "TAR" area. Protests this spring took place simultaneouly in all the Tibetan-inhabited areas.
Tibetans inside Tibet unanimously spoke their loyalty to their exiled leader His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Despite living in exile for the last 50 years, he continues to rule the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people. Interestingly, the younger generation of Tibetans inside Tibet has never seen their leader, yet the protests this spring were largely carried out by the youth.
After 50 years of extreme hardship, the older generation Tibetans have passed on their hope of freedom to the younger generation. This hope signifies the free spirit of the Tibetan people which has never been and will never be broken.
This film is a tribute to the brave Tibetans who made great sacrifices for freedom in Tibet.
Return March to Tibet
Produced by Tibetan People's Uprising Movement
India 2008 | Documentary | 45 min | Tibetan with English subtitles
In one of the biggest Tibetan events to oppose Chinese rule in Tibet, 400 Tibetans marched for nearly 120 days covering a distance of 1200 km from the headquarters of the Tibetans in exile in Dharamshala this year in a 'Return March to Tibet'. Despite the peak summer heat, arrests and intimidation by police, they continued until finally arrested at the border by Indian police.
The march was designed to echo the spirit of the Lhasa uprising of March 1959 when thousands of Tibetans, in an attempt to protect the Dalai Lama, refused to leave Norbulingka, the summer palace of the Tibetan leader.
Five leading non-governmental organisations of Tibetans in exile organised the event.
The significance of this march goes beyond simply judging whether it achieved its stated goal of reaching Tibet. It has expressly showcased the aspirations of the Tibetans in exile to return to their native land to be reunited with their fellow countrymen in a Free Tibet.
The Middle Way: A Peaceful Approach to Resolving Conflict
Produced by Australia Tibet Council
Australia 2008 | Documentary | 110 min | English
A video from the Dalai Lama's address at Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, 8 June 2008.
We usually call our approach the "Middle Way" — at present there is no real autonomy inside Tibet [the "Tibetan Autonomous Region"]. Autonomy is meaningless. Every decision is in the hands of Han Chinese who have no idea about Tibetan culture, about the Tibetan environment or anything about Tibet. They don't know. Their only concern is that Tibet might separate [from China], that's their only concern. So therefore one previous Party Secretary, in another example of hardliner thinking, at a party meeting he mentioned that the source of the danger of Tibetan separation from China is the Tibetan Buddhist faith. So this is, I think, a wrong view. Nowadays there are many Buddhists among the Chinese — I think there are now around a million Chinese already following Tibetan Buddhism. That does not create a danger of separation. If Tibetans were treated well and there was respect for Tibetan culture and Tibetan Buddhism, it would give some sort of happier feeling among Tibetans. So therefore those Chinese really look at all aspects of Tibet as something dangerous or something backward and therefore they don't want any more of these things. So that is why it creates a lot of sadness, a lot of resentment among Tibetans. So the present policy is really not helpful to solve this problem.
Then on the other hand, [the issue of] independence — emotionally, yes, many young Tibetans, including the youth organisations, they are very critical about our approach. They also criticise about me. They consider me a really weak Dalai Lama. So, since a few years — and also I made very clear they can choose whatever they want. "If you disagree with our approach that is absolutely right, that is absolutely okay. We are fully committed to democracy — any criticism is most welcome. However, you should make a systematic programme. If you really want independence, how are you going to achieve it? It is not easy." So that is how I respond to their criticism, I tell them like that. So if they made some kind of realistic, practical proposal, then the majority of Tibetan people will support them. Okay. That's the way things have changed in the exile government.
Recently I received a letter from some Tibetan youth. They expressed to me that they lost their faith so could I dissolve our exile government as well as our exile parliament. We do not want that way [of action]. I do not want to follow the behaviour of the Nepalese king, just dissolve [the parliament], certainly not. If they have really lost their trust then things will change through elections. That is the way. Our middle way is not seeking independence, not staying with the present condition — we seek some meaningful autonomy which the constitution of the People’s Republic of China has provided. Now, that right should be implemented sincerely and fully on the spot. So that is the main meaning of the "middle way" approach.
I think basically our approach is actually of mutual benefit theoretically speaking, it is a mutually agreeable solution. At a practical level, the present Chinese President, Hu Jintao, has very much emphasised the importance of harmony, so our proposal is the best way to achieve harmony and stability and unity.
Directed by Dhiraj Kashyap
India 2005 | Documentary | 25 min | English
The Light tells the success story of an educational institute Saraswati Bag Dhwani under the direction of Sri Munindra Nath Kalita, who through ground-breaking research has developed a programme for hearing-impaired children for them to be able to lead a normal life, overcoming their disabilities, through use of ingenious scientific techniques based on phonetic sounds and sign language.
This documentary relates the uplifting story of the children in the institution, which is in Assam, the north-east India, reflecting their hopes and aspirations realised through the motivation of the specialist teachers and therapists at Saraswati Bag Dhwani.
The Unwinking Gaze
Directed by Joshua Dugdale
India/UK 2008 | Documentary | 70 min | English
The Unwinking Gaze offers a unique, behind-the-scenes insight into the recent working life of Tibet's would-be saviour and revered world icon the Dalai Lama.
The Unwinking Gaze was filmed over a period of three years with exceptional access showing the daily agonies of the Tibetan leader as he tries to strike a balance between his Buddhist vows and the realpolitik needed to placate China. David and Goliath is played out in front of us as the world's emerging superpower and the Dalai Lama walk a tightrope over an issue of global importance.
The Unwinking Gaze is not three years in the life of the Dalai Lama. It is his life's work in three years. This film takes you inside the Titanic struggle of one of the great spiritual and political figures of our time, as he tries to lead his people to a peaceful resolution with China.
The Forbidden Team
Directed by Arnold Krøigaard and Rasmus Dinesen
Denmark/India 2003 | Documentary | 54 min | Danish with English subtitles
Made by Danish filmmakers Rasmus Dinesen and Arnold Krøjgaard, this documentary relates the heart-warming story of the first ever international football match played by the Tibetan national football team, made up of exiled Tibetans. The film follows the story from the trials for the Tibetan team, right through to the friendly match played against the Greenlandic national side which took place in Denmark. The match caused much controversy, with both FIFA and the Chinese Government attempting to prevent it from taking place, but the match nevertheless took place in a show of dedication to the beautiful game as well as to the nation of Tibet.
Taxi to the Dark Side
Directed by Alex Gibney
Afghanistan/USA 2008 | Documentary | 106 min | English
Using the torture and death in 2002 of an innocent Afghan taxi driver as the touchstone, this film examines changes after 9/11 in U.S. policy toward suspects in the war on terror. Soldiers, their attorneys, one released detainee, U.S. Attorney John Yoo, news footage and photos tell a story of abuse at Bagram Air Base, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay. From Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Gonzalez came unwritten orders to use any means necessary. The CIA and soldiers with little training used sleep deprivation, sexual assault, stress positions, waterboarding, dogs and other terror tactics to seek information from detainees. Many speakers lament the loss of American ideals in pursuit of security.
Man, Freedom and God
Directed by Robin Das
India 2008 | Documentary | 37 min | English
There have been a number of films on the struggle freedom of India. Man, Freedom and God attempts to show the abuses that occurred during India's freedom struggle. The film is an anthropological and philosophical investigation in the platform of history.
Richard Gere is my Hero
Directed by Tashi Wangchuk and Tsultrim Dorjee
India 2008 | Romantic Comedy | 90 min | Tibetan with English subtitles
Richard Gere is my Hero is a film about four exile friends who live in Mcleod Ganj, India, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, headed by the Dalai Lama. Nyima, one of the friends, is a diehard fan of the Hollywood star, Richard Gere, and wants to become a great actor himself. He wishes to follow the footsteps of his icon to do something meaningful for his home country Tibet, and awaits Richard Gere's arrival in the town. The film is shot entirely in and around Dharamshala.
Miss Tibet in Exile
Directed by Tashi Wangchuk and Tsultrim Dorjee
India 2008 | Documentary | 30 min | English
Miss Tibet in Exile is a documentary film about the making of Miss Tibet beauty pageant in India and the winning girl's subsequent participation in the Miss Earth beauty pageant in the Philippines. The film portrays various behind the scene activities of the pageant's organizer Lobsang Wangyal. It also features several notable Tibetan personalities expressing their views on the beauty pageant.
The Silent Holy Stones
Written and Directed by Wanma Caidan (Pronounced Pema Tsetan)
Tibet 2005 | Drama | 102 min | Tibetan with English subtitles
The Silent Holy Stones traces the intermingling of native Tibetan culture with the influence of the outside world. The movie tells the story of a young Lama who returns to home for New Year holidays from his remote temple, and is deeply impressed by the changes in his village.
The young Lama discovers a new TV set in his family's home. He falls in love with the television series Journey to the West. Upon returning to the temple, the boy begs his father to bring the VCD and TV back to the temple for other Lamas to watch.
His fixation on the TV begins to distract him from his duties to the temple and his community. Despite the intensity of contrast between the religious and secular, the ancient and contemporary, The Silent Holy Stones never escalates the tension to the level of contrived narrative conceit.
Awards: Winner of the 25th Golden Rooster, Best Directorial Debut; winner of the 13th Beijing Student Film Festival, Best Directorial Debut; winner of the New Currents Award in the 10th Pusan International Film Festival; winner of Dragons and Tigers award in the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival.
Director Pema Tsetan was born in the Tibetan area in Qinghai, northwest China in 1969. He studied Tibetan language and culture at the Northwest National University, and film at the Beijing Film Academy. A screenplay writer and director, he wrote and conducted a 35mm coloured short film — The Grassland — 2004, which won the best short film prize at the Chinese Students' Films Sections and the 3rd International Students Audio and Visual Works Show at the Beijing Film Academy. He was chosen one of Discovery's First Time Filmmakers of 2004 and his second feature film, BLIND MOUNTAIN, is currently in post-production.
The Silent Holy Stones won the 25th Golden Rooster, Best Directorial Debut; winner of the 13th Beijing Student Film Festival, Best Directorial Debut; winner of the New Currents Award in the 10th Pusan International Film Festival; winner of Dragons and Tigers award in the 24th Vancouver International Film Festival.
A short film by Wanma Caidan (Pronounced Pema Tsetan)
Tibet 2004 | Drama | 22 min | Tibetan (Amkay) with English subtitles
An old woman loses a cow in the Tibetan district of Qinghai. The village head thought the notorious young men had stolen it. The suspects were reluctant to meet the head's order to vow before the Buddha. They were indeed innocent. In the end, the head's son admitted he was the thief when faced with his father's inquiry. The father led the son to apologize to the old woman. It is a tranquil and consistent film, slowly unfolded, simply put.
Grasslands won the Best Chinese Student Short Film award in the 4th BFA international student film exhibition. It was shown in the 24th International Student Film Festival of the Russian State Institute of Cinematography, VGIK. It was also was displayed in the 3rd Annual Film Festival in Yokohama, in the 1st Korean International Youth Film Festival, and in the International Film Festival Rotterdam.
Buddha's Lost Children
Directed by Mark Verkerk
Thailand/Burma 2006 | Documentary | 96 min | Thai with English subtitles
In the remote borderlands of Thailand's Golden Triangle, an unorthodox Buddhist monk devotes himself to the care of the poorest hill tribe children. This intimate, emotionally charged portrait, charts how the monk's unique brand of touch love unlocks the boys' potentials. This is a story of self-discovery and new awakenings, an inspirational journey into a hidden world.
Bhutan: Taking the Middle Path to Happiness
Directed by Tom Vendetti
Bhutan 2007 | Documentary | 57 min | English
Imagine a country committed to the people's happiness. . .
A place where nature is sacred. . .
Imagine a people whose identity is rooted in ancient culture. . .
In 2006, the King of Bhutan stepped down and was succeeded by his son.
Can the new King maintain his father's vision of happiness for his people?
Is there anyone who would say no to happiness? Bhutan is a place where the government decided to make the governing rule about happiness — the Gross National Happiness.
After all, Bhutan, which is isolated high in the Himalayas between China and India, has lush waterfalls, green forests, quaint villages and an active farming community.
Filmmakers Tom Vendetti, John Wehrheim and Robert Stone were among the first western filmmakers allowed in the country to share the story of Bhutan, which previously issued only 500 visas a year.
Buddhism, which encourages happiness and believes suffering is unnecessary, is the official religion of Bhutan.
"There's wisdom in other cultures around the world," says Tom Vendetti, the film's director and a psychologist at the Maui Mental Health Clinic. "I hope people can be open to change and a new paradigm. This film is a labour of love."
Produced with the help of Scott Dewar with music by Christopher Hedge and Paul Horn, two weeks of filming capturing the essence of the land is edited into about 60 minutes. Vendetti notes the film is about how people in Bhutan define happiness, feel content and are satisfied.
The film chronicles how the country has television, Internet and more modern influences, and how those influences are helping or harming the isolated country. The cinematic work also delves briefly into the urbanized parts of Bhutan where there are billboards, nightclubs and automobiles.
What also struck Tom Vendetti was the intelligence of the nation's future, its young people, who are grounded in the Buddhist concepts of living, healthy and grounded life — taking the middle path.
The film has a bonus feature of the Dalai Lama speaking on Happiness for eight minutes.