Films on Tibet Set for US Tour the Isolated and Chinese-Dominated Country Is Shown in Its Richness and Diversity

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IN much of the world outside central Asia, the mention of Tibet is likely to conjure up vague, mixed images of art, religion, and politics. These are gleaned less from personal knowledge than from journalistic reports - which hit a peak when the exiled Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago - and partly from pop-culture fantasies like "Lost Horizon," the 1937 movie that first popularized the notion of Tibet as a blissful Shangri-La.

There is more to this ancient land than the heroics of its exiled leader and the pipe dreams of Hollywood studios, however. One purpose of the current International Year of Tibet, launched last March by Tibet House of New York, is to promote American awareness of some tragic facts: that since the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in 1949, more than 1 million Tibetans have perished, forests have been destroyed, libraries and historic institutions pillaged, and traditional religion attacked.

A centerpiece of the year-long event is an ambitious Tibet Film Festival, held at Anthology Film Archives with additional screenings at the Asia Society, on public television, and on the outdoor JumboTron video display in the Times Square area. A portion of the film festival - which ends its New York engagement this Sunday - will tour the United States beginning in January. It's sponsored by Zeitgeist Films, a distribution company specializing in alternatives to commercial programming.

The idea for the filmfest came originally from movie actor Richard Gere, chair of Tibet House and a longtime supporter of Tibetan causes. The program was selected by L. Somi Roy, an expert in Asian cinema. Since there is no indigenous Tibetan film industry, Mr. Roy told me recently, he decided to bring together a wide range of international movies that would reflect Tibet's many-faceted image.

"I was fascinated by how Tibet has been aproached by different people from different countries and periods," Roy says. "Each one seems to have a different perspective. We decided to include a certain amount of archival film about the initial 'discovery' of Tibet, much of it couched in scientific terms ... and also to show how the perspective on Tibet in countries like Germany, the United States, and the Soviet Union has changed from 'Tibet as Shangri-La' to a postwar attitude that's quite different."

In the 1960s and '70s, Roy continues, US and Western European films on Tibet were mainly interested in issues of philosophy and religion, focusing on ancient Buddhist teachings and their influence on Tibetan life. …