Indian film on Tibet raises China's hackles
Apr 14, 2007 - 2:18:34 PM

Kathmandu, April 14 - A film on contemporary Tibet, made by a Tibetan exile and his Indian wife, has raised the hackles of the Chinese government which is reportedly trying to stop it from being screened at film festivals worldwide.`

'Dreaming Lhasa', produced by Hollywood star Richard Gere and made by the husband-wife team of Indian Ritu Sarin and Tibetan exile Tenzing Sonam, premiered at the Imaginasian Theater in New York Friday and is also set to be screened in seven major US cities, including Chicago, San Francisco and Boston.

The film, depicting the plight of the exiled Tibetan community in India, gleans Sonam's own experiences as a first-generation Tibetan who was born and brought up in India and then lived most of his adult life in the West before returning to Dharamsala in north India, the seat of exiled Tibetan leader and Nobel laureate the Dalai Lama.

Hailed as the first major feature film by a Tibetan to deal with contemporary Tibet, 'Dreaming Lhasa' has been a thorn in the flesh of the Chinese government that has reportedly been trying to prevent it from being screened abroad in the fear that it will focus new attention on the plight of Tibetans in China, ahead of the Olympic Games to be hosted by Beijing in 2008.

In 2005, Chinese officials tried to pressure the organisers of the Toronto International Film Festival to remove 'Dreaming Lhasa' but the organisers refused.

Beijing, however, had more success at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea the same year when though initially chosen for screening, 'Dreaming Lhasa' was dropped at the last moment with no explanation.

To combat film with film, the Chinese government is vigorously promoting 'The Silent Holy Stones' - that though made by a well-regarded Tibetan filmmaker within Tibet, can be used as Chinese propaganda.

Officially promoted by China as the 'first Tibetan feature film', Beijing reportedly allows film festivals to screen 'The Silent Holy Stones' on the condition that no Tibetan films made outside China can be screened with it.

Ironically, on the same day that 'Dreaming Lhasa' premiered in New York, 'The Silent Holy Stones' also opened at the Lincoln Center in the same city.

Mary Beth Markey, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet, an organisation trying to promote the rights of Tibetans and advocating a free Tibet, said: 'Beijing continues in its attempts to control the representation of Tibet to the international community, including putting pressure on film festivals not to show this powerful new film about the Tibetan struggle for freedom.

'The Chinese authorities are now promoting certain films in order to show their tolerance and encouragement of Tibetan artists and Tibetan culture.

'Unfortunately 'The Silent Holy Stones', although independently made by a well regarded Tibetan filmmaker within Tibet, is being used by the PRC as a propaganda opportunity.'

Sarin explains why China is trying to stop the screening of 'Dreaming Lhasa'.

'Although the protagonists' story is fictional, it is an authentic rendering of the passions and concerns of Tibetan exiles, and the political prisoners who appear in the film tell their own, true stories.

'For these reasons, 'Dreaming Lhasa' is a film that China does not want you to see,' she said.

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