Monday, March 29, 2010

Sarin/Sonam's SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS updates us on Tibet

"The Buddha of compassion" is the name some give to the Dali Lama of Tibet, who's the lead actor in the new documentary -- THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS -- which details this no-longer-a-country's seemingly endless road back to nationhood.  Accor-
ding to Wikipedia, Tibet has, since the 1600s, existed some-
times as a series of sovereign states, as a single independent entity or as a mountain mass and its people controlled by China -- the last of which has been the case for more than 50 years, since the abdication to the north Indian city of Dharamsala by the Dali Lama and many of his followers.

Written and co-directed by Tenzing Sonam (shown above, right, with his co-director Ritu Sarin), the documentary, while it does not dazzle with its style nor offer dolphin slaughter, Pentagon Paper mischief nor worldwide eating disorders, does manage to fill us in with what has happened of late regarding His Holiness and his former homeland.  Most of us, if we've paid the slightest attention to the Tibetan cause over the last decade, will have noticed protests -- especially those that surfaced around the time that Chinese hosted the Olympics Games.  Sarin and Sonam take us into and beyond all this to discover that, even among Tibetans (let alone the Chinese) there is great disagreement as to what is needed and how to achieve it.

For instance, does "The Middle Way" mean anything to you? It will, once you've viewed Sun/Clouds.  It is the more or less middle-ground-approach between actual Tibetan nationhood and what the Chinese now allow, and it is the path preferred by His Holiness.  Not that China will go a step further toward Tibetan autonomy.  Its leaders refuse to meet with the Tibetan power brokers.  Then they will.  But then they cancel.  Finally they appear to defer (in what looks awfully like a PR scheme in preparation for those Olympic games) but nothing comes of this, either.

Meanwhile, Tibetan activists (above) are on the move, marching in a very long line from India toward the border of Tibet.  Along the way, they are stopped, first by Indian police, then allowed to continue.  We see and hear from various historians, poets and protesters, all of whom make perfect sense.  Yet the Dali Lama, looking and acting a bit like Bartleby, would prefer not to.  I do not know that this is intentional on the filmmakers' part, but the scene between His Holiness and Prince Charles of England looks an awfully lot like a meeting between two pieces of pampered royalty. Well, the guys can't help it: Both have been bred to this, have they not?  In any case, the most important point may be, as one of the many intelligent people interviewed here points out, "Devotion to his Holiness clouds any kind of political realism."  Yup: faith'll do that.

We get some Tibetan history along the way (some of which comes from Tibetan historian/activist/writer, Jamyang Norbu, shown above), particularly that of the last few years, during which China seems to have deliberately encouraged its own citizens to colonize the area.  Another interviewee (Lhasang Tsering, a writer and independence activist based in Dharamsala) tells us that the fate of his people will eventually be that of the American Indian or Australian Aborigine: Tibetans as a separate people will no longer exit.  That's a bit of a leap, as we pretty much slaughtered, starved and finally reservation-ized most of our Indian population, and Australia did the same to its indigenous population. The fate of the New Zealand Maoris would seem to be closer to the mark: assimilation and intermarriage until there are few full-blooded Maoris (or in this case, Tibetans) remaining.

For its part, the Chinese people, patriotic to a fault, protest (see above) the Tibetans' protests, whenever possible, with what seems to be to be the usual lies from the usual suspects.  Where human rights are concerned -- whether these have to do with Chinese citizens thrown from their homes to construct the Three Gorges Dam, the Tibetan people, or the rights of anyone in China to surf the web for information -- this giant country is simply not to be trusted -- and certainly remains among the least nations on earth fit to cast stones. (I say this knowing damn well that the USA is first in this regard.)  It was the showing of The Sun Behind the Clouds at the recent Palm Springs International Film Festival, in fact, that led China to pull all screenings of its two films scheduled to be shown -- one of which was slated to open the festival.  Let's hear it for freedom of film (or freedom of anything), China!

So where does that leave Tibet?  Right where it is, it would seem, although Sun/Clouds does indicate a growing force of Tibetan activists both inside and outside of China that could, eventually, make a difference.   Somehow, though, Trust Movies suspects that he will not be alive to witness the reformation.

The Sun Behind the Clouds opens Wednesday, March 31, at NYC's Film Forum. Times and ticket info can be found here.  Future (and past) screenings of the film can be accessed here. This coming month will see a one-week run of the film at the SIFF Cinema in Seattle, from April 16 to 22.

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