Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tibetan Film Fest: 14 Films, 7 Nights

The second annual Tibetan Film Festival kicked off in Mcleod Ganj last night before a sold-out Community Center audience.

Mcleod Ganj, otherwise known as “upper Dharamsala,” is the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government, as well as thousands of Tibetans living in exile from their native Tibet. Deeply rich in Tibetan Buddhist culture, it is also a destination for “dharma” travelers worldwide.

It's good that many of the folks in the multi-national audience are yoga practitioners, because the place was crowded, and with no seats everyone was squeezed together cross-legged on the astroturf floor. My sore knees nothwithstanding, it all just adds to the ambiance of the event.

The festival, organized by Lobsang Wangyal (who serves as its director), will run for seven consecutive evenings, with two new films being screened each night.

Of the 14 included films, eight were made by Tibetans, one was made with Tibetan involvement, and the rest are critically acclaimed international films, sharing concerns and interests common to the Tibetan community and its supporters.

“Film has magic, as well as power and joy, of course. Tibetans are now increasingly catching up with this medium,” said Wangyal.

“This film festival is independent with no affiliation to any government or other organization. Neither is it registered, or does it seek fame or recognition. It should be known that the films are screened purely for creating awareness, and sharing concerns about what matters in our lives, art and entertainment,” he added.

Of the films being screened, one of them, Water, has become a controversy on the subcontinent, coming under extreme pressure from the Indian government as well as fundamental groups. Made by Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, the film -- which author Salman Rushdie has called “magnificent” -- examines the severe injustices that women suffer in yesterday's (and still today's) India.

Set in the 1930’s during the rise of independence struggles against British colonial rule, Water examines the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi (formerly Benares). It focuses on a relationship between one of the widows, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man from a lower caste who is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Other films include Tibetan-made Travellers & Magicians (seen last night and truly wonderful) and House of Flying Daggers by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou.

Why include a Chinese film in a Tibetan film festival in Dharamsala, where anti-Chinese feelings are so strong?

“It’s not about politics, it’s about the art,” said Wangyal. “Zhang Yimou is a great director and this film is beautiful. It will give the audience goosebumps.”

The festival runs through May 7 and begins at 7:00pm each night. Admission is 50 rps per night and if you're a "must-have popcorn" type when you're at the movies, you're out of luck here . . . but yes, veggie momos (Tibetan dumplings) and mineral water are available at the front door.

A real community-gathering event, the Tibetan Film Festival is great fun in a terrific setting.

More information at www.tibetanfilmfest.com.