Just got back from Jakarta where amongst other things I attended a Tibet Documentary Film Week of Leaving Fear Behind. It is an extraordinary little film shot in the most basic straightforward manner – but does it tell the story.


One thing that did make me think is that sometimes our over romanticising of what Tibet was makes the opposition to China’s brutal repression a sitting duck for cynical Chinese retorts. It becomes easy for the Chinese to divert the attention to the abuses the Tibetans themselves carried out in the past.

As if there is any country in the world where abuses have not been perpetrated by its own people. China? Or the USA for that matter? Does that really justify a Maoist style ‘liberation’? Or even a Bush style pre-emptive strike? And who exactly is going to ‘liberate’ China or the USA? Funny how righteous ideaology seems to be OK for the mighty and not for others.

All the ‘liberation’ by others seems to do is rob people of their right to correct themselves, killing their own progress. Then the liberators do even worse by trying to create progress artificially. There is little chance for the liberated ones to really voice their views or feelings to the outside world.

In the film Leaving Fear Behind, the premise is simple. A couple of Tibetans, Dhondhup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin, set out to find out what their own countrymen in Tibet really think about the upcoming (then in 2008) Olympic games. In the opening shots the narrator speaks on camera, declaring his intent. He speaks on and off again on camera. And he does in in public places and on trains. In Chinese occupied territories. Watching, I am amazed, but he shows no fear.

Most of the footage between interviews is shot off the hip, and the interviews are shot in a way that focuses more on content than esthetic – something which makes it even more powerful as an eyewitness account. One interviewee sits heavily backlit in order to hide his identity, the consequent flared out highlights and deep shadows simply adds authenticity. Others insist on showing their face, one even declares he is ready to die as long as the message gets out to the outside world. There could be no other title for this film.

The simple message brought to us by these interviews mingled with sadness, tears, defiance, outrage : let us live, stop squeezing the lifeblood out of us, destroying our culture, fencing in our freedom, and bring the Dalai Lama back. There is no romanticism here: straightforward anguish and a sense of being abandoned by the world.

Meanwhile the Olympics were a spectacular display, far from the misery and grief of the fenced in nomad or the monk trapped in a disneyfied monastery – a PRC success that has swept the dirt under the carpet.

At the end of this Tibetan cinema verité film they show the presenter gathering all the cassetes to be smuggled out. The footage made it out. The film makers were not that fortunate.

Dhondhup Wangchen and Gyaljong Tsetrin were arrested in China months ago, and there has been no news since.

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