The docu China doesn't want you to watch

Oct 16, 2011, 10:50 IST | Lhendup G Bhutia

A controversial documentary on Tibet, both outside and within the community, will be aired on television for the first time this Saturday

A controversial documentary on Tibet, both outside and within the community, will be aired on television for the first time this Saturday

While plenty of documentaries have been made on the issue of Tibet, on Saturday, a controversial film that looks as much at the struggle between the Chinese and the Tibetans as the political fractures arising within the Tibetan community, will be aired on television.

A still from The Sun Behind the Clouds. PIC/David Hwang/White Crane

The Sun Behind The Clouds, which among other awards has picked up the Silver Conch award at MAMI last year, burst into news late in 2009, when the Chinese government tried to force the organisers of the Palm Springs International Film Festival in the US to pull out the documentary. When the organizers refused to relent, two Chinese films were pulled out in retaliation.

The documentary started off with the intention of taking a hard look at the Tibet struggle, 2008 marking the 50th anniversary of the fall of Lhasa. But during filming, the March 2008 riots in Lhasa broke out and globe protests against the Beijing Olympics unfolded -- both are part of the documentary. "We had no choice but to follow the events as they were happening. We filmed for most of that year, all across the world, and ended up with a lot of material. In retrospect, I think the events enriched the film immeasurably," says Tenzing Sonam, who along with his Indian wife Ritu Sarin, directed the film.

The film is contentious because it focuses on a burning issue among Tibetans, one that is rarely discussed in public: the growing dissatisfaction with the Dalai Lama's Middle Way approach. According to this approach, Tibetans are to struggle peacefully against the Chinese and look for autonomy within the sovereignty of China. 

Sonam says, "The fact that we are a Tibetan-Indian couple, very closely connected to the Tibetan community in exile, and deeply involved in the political struggle, meant that we had a personal stake in the subject. For us, this was more than just a film; it was our life."

However, now with the Dalai Lama having hinted that the institution of the Dalai Lama might come to an end, and with the Kalon Tripa (Tibetan Prime Minister) assuming more political powers, many fear that the Middle Way approach might soon be forsaken for a more aggressive stance. According to Sonam, "As the situation inside Tibet deteriorates, and Tibetans are forced into taking desperate actions, more Tibetans will want to see some movement in the dialogue process. If this does not happen soon, the call for a tougher line on China will become louder."

According to Sonam, while at Palm Springs, the Chinese government openly tried opposing the screening of the film, other times there have been more discreet opposition to deal with. "Once, the director of a well-known festival in the US told us he was asked to sign a letter stating that he would not show our film if he would be allowed to screen a Chinese film," Sonam shares.

At: 3 pm, October 22; and at 1 pm, October 23; NDTV 24x7

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