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USA, 1998 (MIFF 1999, International Panorama)

Director: Paul Wagner

Filmmakers often construct dangerous scenes or situa­tions within their project but rarely do they undertake an entire shoot that places them in personal jeopardy. Director Paul Wagner along with his cast and crew posed as tourists with video cameras while on location in Tibet. The ensemble dodged plain-clothes Chinese secret police and security cameras and one of the principal cast members could not even be identified in the credits for fear of reprisals against Tibetans living in China.

The film traces a number of storylines that graphi­cally depict the plight of Tibetans at the hands of an invading nation. This urgent, contemporary story follows an aspiring Tibetan pop singer, Dolkar, who wins favour with the Chinese government officials and looks to be on the brink of considerable fame and a national broadcast. Dolkar subsequenliy undergoes a crisis of conscience when her cousin, Pema, a Buddhist nun, is imprisoned and cruelly tortured for her religious beliefs.

Wagner has opted for authenticity in his depiction of the Tibetan struggle. His film is a reaction against more popular recent titles like Kundun (shot in Morocco) and Seven Years in Tibet (shot in Argentina) which paint­ed the situation in broad strokes, often at the expense of personal detail.

Dolkar's brother Dorjee is a brooding, Chinese-hat­ing disaster waiting to happen. He meets and takes a fancy to a young American woman, Amy, a tourist whose video camera is never far from her eye. The siblings ask Amy to record a statement by Pema outlining her sadistic treat­ment at the hands of the Chinese police. Pema has barely finished her account when she dies of her injuries. The drama of smuggling the tape and family out of Tibet form the suspenseful climax to this brave and powerful film.

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