Was it during the scorching, sweat dripping hot summer afternoon period in the video lab laughing at Thanu being chased by Anu or was it way before that when I first watched a Tibetan Film. It was definitely not during my middle school, Tibetan period watching 'Richard Gere is my Hero'(2010) as I recall telling my friend that ‘Phun Anu Thanu(2006)’ was far better because of the funny pranks they played.
It all started with one vagrant who had the guts to make butter tea in the house with a history of making masala tea, but to their surprise they weren't kicked out of the house. Audiences around the globe enjoyed the unknown language and culture but for the vagrants, it was their hope and their new home. One thing led to another, creators and writers brought their stories on the white sheets to the silver screen of reputed Film festivals getting nominated and winning prestigious awards year after year.
I feel that the world has been first notified with the unknown, explored the unexplored and told the untold stories about Tibet in 1997 when Martin Scorsese came up with ‘Kundun(1997)’, an epic biological film about His Holiness the 14th Dalia lama. Melissa Mathison, the writer of the particular film, has been also a great friend of Tibet both through her professional and personal life.
‘Seven years in Tibet(1997)’ was also based on a true story of Heinrich Harrar who is the writer of the film along with Becky Johnson who encountered the current Dalia Lama at the time of China’s invasion of Tibet when he was a mountain Climber.
I might have watched this film because of Brad Pitt but it had a huge impact on me as a Tibetan and I think every Tibetan should watch it at least once in their lifetime.
Director Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche is a Tibetan/Bhutanese filmmaker and a writer. Many would know him from his latest film ‘Looking for a lady with fang and mustache’ but he had won many hearts with his 1999 film ‘The Cup(Phorpa)(1999)’.
This film is very relatable to many of Tibetan like myself. The resemblance of the life of the monks inside the monastery whether it’d be their behavior or their love for football is uncanny. It felt more like a fun documentary than a film. It has been no surprise for me that this film has six wins at well acclaimed award functions and three nominations.
From the producer of The Cup, produced another film after seven years, directed by Neten Chokling Rinpoche was about the Tibet’s greatest tantric Milarepa’s story. The film ‘Milarepa(2006)’ revolves around vengeance, greed and liberation from both.
In the year 1999 also came the film which was nominated for the best foreign language film at the Academy Award, ‘Himalayas’(1999). This film may not be directed by a Tibetan born and potentially known for being the first Nepalese film to be nominated for an Oscar but the preciseness and the rate of accuracy at which it features the language we speak and the clothes we wear almost felt like it was set in Tibet itself. And originally it was set in the Dolpo region of Nepal who have been a part of Tibet since the 9th century, this film has presented a very rich tradition and the livelihood of the Nomads. The whole film was acted and performed by Tibetan actors such as Lhakpa Tsamchoe, Gurgon Kyab, Tsering Dorjee etc.
‘Jinpa (2018)’ film directed by the well renowned and one true auteur, late Pema Tsetan and produced by the Hong Kong poetic filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai won best screenplay at Venice Film Festival, best film at Vesoul asian film festival 2019 and was nominated for various film awards. This film about murder and mystery has such native touch of Tibetan culture, language and environment shown through the long static shots in the film.
Another captivating masterpiece film by Tsetan la had four nominations in 2020 Asian Film Awards and won best film at CinemAsia Film Festival 2020 and Shanghai International Film Festival. ‘Red Balloon (2019)’ story revolves around China's one child policy and with strong conservative notions about contraceptives, the film is light-hearted and heavily enriched with great performances by actors such as Jinpa and Sonam Wangmo who also starred in many of Tsetan's other films. With all the restrictions and pressure inside Tibet, Pema Tsetan still succeeded in bringing Tibetan Film on an international platform making him the greatest storyteller and the bravest idol for everyone inside and outside of Tibet.
Since 1950, after the invasion of China, there has never been a film that showed the aftermath of the brutality and tells the story of a young Tibetan lads in India who have fled from their homes at a very young age, the rage for the unjust and the patriotism for the lost well at least not the like the film ‘Pawo(2016)’ directed by Marvin Litwak and Sonam Tsetan. It casted many young Tibetan actors which was profound to watch with their intense acting skills.
Likewise we have a Tibetan filmmaker based in India who also brought the Tibetan issue and story under spotlight through his films like ‘The Sweet Requiem’(2018) and documentary like ‘The shadow circus: The CIA in Tibet’ (1998) and ‘The Stranger in my Native land’(1998). Tenzing Sonam, director, writer and the creator of The White Crane Production with his partner Ritu Sarin, an Indian Filmmaker based in Dharamsala and the director of DIFF(Dharamsala film festival)has inspired, empowered and excited many of the young Tibetan Filmmakers around the globe.
The list doesn’t end here and the production doesn’t stop here when more has to come for us, Tibetan has more stories to tell and more milestones to cover. The language sweet as a melody and the spirit high as the Everest, the world should be prepared for what has to uncover.
(Tenzin Lhadon is a BA graduate in Journalism from University of Delhi.)