Published Apr 01, 2004Am I jaded, or should I simply ignore the bells and whistles that go off in my head the moment I see that Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon are narrating a documentary with political ramifications? Not when the producers are the same team that brought together Broken Arrow, the 1986 Oscar winner for Best Documentary that exposed the forced relocation of Navajo Indians off of their land in the '70s.
Using striking visual images, archival footage and in-depth interviews by the likes of his holiness the Dalai Lama and the director of Tibet House, Robert Thurman, director Tom Peosay attempts to clarify the muddied waters that have surrounded the now half-century of Chinese occupation that has enveloped Tibet and hastened the near destruction of its enlightened 1,700 year old culture.
Peosay's skills as a videographer are remarkable and on full display. He shoots lush vistas and ancient architecture in a clean, languid style. Such mind-bogglingly beautiful visuals speak to his commitment to capturing the full and true essence of this now troubled place. Journalistic objectivity, however, is not Peosay's strong suit. You know about ten minutes into the film where he stands on the issue and it shows.
Though China's rap sheet is hardly worth ignoring, it would have been nice to have seen him break away from the talking head-type clips we are familiar with. Also, his view of pre-invasion Tibet as spiritual cultural centre does seem idealised and overstated at times. It is perhaps the price of being passionately married to your material for ten years, the time it took he and his collaborators to put this incredible documentary together.
That said, Peosay does a deft job in elucidating Tibet's geographical and political significance, and we go away knowing more about the region and its troubles than we did previously. Most important of all though, is his choice to let Tibetans speak for their country, including two whose stunning stories of survival are breathtaking in their scope. The images of them quietly evoke struggle in the face of oppression and violence, and manage to move and appal us at once, focusing our attention on their culture's brave tradition towards non-violence.
But it is the Dali Lama who remains the most persuasive spokesperson, emphasising over and over that he holds no hatred for his oppressors and instead sees them as teachers in the "spiritual practice of compassion." This is strong medicine in sick times. (Mongrel Media)