DHARAMSALA, Sep 17: The seventh edition of Tibet Film Festival kick-started to a packed hall at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala on Sep 16 with a special screening of ‘Pawo’ (Tib: Martyr), a feature length Tibetan language film loosely based on Jamphel Yeshi, a 27-yr-old Tibetan who set himself on fire in March 2012 in India’s capital, New Delhi.
The political head of the Tibetan people, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay attended the screening as the Chief Guest. Members of the Kashag (Tibetan cabinet), members of the Tibetan Parliament in exile and heads of various Dharamsala-based NGOs and institutions were among the Tibetan dignitaries present at the screening.
Dr Sangay, in his address to the public, highlighted the importance of arts, especially film-making, in raising awareness on the Tibetan issue.
On being asked about his favourite films, Sikyong Sangay said ‘Gandhi’ and ‘Brave Heart’ are two movies that he can watch again and again although there are other great films that he loves to watch.
‘Pawo’, directed by Marvin Litwak, a German filmmaker and Tibetan filmmaker, Sonam Tseten of ‘Tsampa to Pizza’ and ‘Girl from China’ fame tells the story of Dorjee, the protagonist of the film, who, after spending several months in a Chinese prison for taking part in a protest during the pan Tibetan uprising of 2008, is forced to escape into exile in India. After crossing the Himalayas on foot and escaping the watchful eyes of the Chinese border security guards, Dorjee meets his childhood friend in Majnu-ka-tilla, the Tibetan colony in Delhi and even falls in love with a Tibetan girl but Dorjee never feels at home in the narrow alleys of Majnu-ka-tilla. With thoughts of homeland and its loss never leaving him, Dorjee decides to make a final cry for Tibet’s freedom by setting himself on fire.
Replying to a query from the audience on how difficult it was to make the film, Co-Director Sonam Tseten said that although the film was made with amateur Tibetan actors with little to no experience in acting, the fact that many of the actors had similar experience of crossing the Himalayas and escaping into exile in India was a huge advantage and made it easier for the filmmakers, although there were numerous other challenges the film crew had to overcome.
The Tibet Film Festival (TFF) restricts itself to screening of film made by Tibetan filmmakers or films that are made by non-Tibetan filmmakers but where Tibetans have a huge involvement. The festival is simultaneously held in Zurich, Switzerland where TFF first began its journey in 2009, inspired by a self-taught Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen who was imprisoned for his film ‘Leaving Fear Behind’.