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
"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. …