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THE SALTMEN OF TIBET

Switzerland / Germany, 1997 (MIFF 1998, Documentaries)

Director: Ulrike Koch

Under the most inhospitable of conditions in one of the most remote regions in the world, director Ulrike Koch has documented the journey and rituals of a nomadic Tibetan community. The fact that she has devised a film of sublime beauty and epic proportions while enduring such adversity is testament to her determination and consummate ability as a filmmaker.

Pre-Jurassic Park, in fact 200 million years ago the Neotethic Sea covered most of Asia including what was to become the Tibetan Plateau. Vast salt lakes remain as evidence of this marine past and from time immemorial salt has formed a part of the Tibetan economic foundation. To the people of the region however the mineral serves as much more than a primitive currency. It's extraction and gathering, a seemingly ordinary occurrence, has traditionally been ritualised in a deeply religious fashion and every spring men depart, with herds of pack animals, on the arduous journey to the lakes.

Koch follows a nomad caravan on the three month trek, a pilgrimage to the holy salt lake of Chantang, observing age-old taboos and steadfast homage to the deities of nature, all to collect 'the tears of Tara'.

"The film transports us into a realm of endless mystery untainted by the tides of foreign invasion or encroaching modernity... Journeying to the rooftop of the world the film overwhelms us with its evocation of the saltmens' herculean endurance and spirit. The result is a breathtaking collage of image and sound, a majestic tribute to the purity of a landscape, people and tradition facing extinction." - Sundance Film Festival

Ulrike Koch was born in Germany and has studied Sinology, Japanology and Ethnology at Zurich and Beijing Universities. She worked for ten years in the Chinese film industry prior to work as a location scout and casting director for Bernardo Bertolucci on The Last Emperor and Little Buddha. The Saltmen of Tibet is Koch's second feature after Qi-Gong - The Art of Silence as Elixir of Life (1996).

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