Last weekend, an advance screening of the film Windhorse was shown locally at CU Boulder as part of an SFT event. Since this is film news rather than nerd news, the usual slashdot film-review disclaimer applies: skip it if you don't want to read it.Windhorse is a film about the struggles of a Tibetan family in Chinese occupied Tibet. The story begins fifteen years ago with a flashback to the childhood of the film's three main characters. Two chinese soldiers come to their village, pass the singing and playing children, and shoot the childrens' grandfather who is praying. The film then cuts over to their current occupations. The boy, Dorjee, is now an unemployed disillusioned man who wastes his days drinking and hanging out. His sister, Dolkar, has become a singer in a disco having mastered the chinese language and manners, and has a chinese boyfriend, Duan-Ping. Her cousin Pema has become a buddhist nun.
It's 1997, and Duan-Ping helps Dolkar get the attention of a high-ranking official, Mr Du, who can make her into a recording star. At the same time, the order comes from China's capital Beijing that no Tibetan person or Abbey may own a picture of HH the Dalai Lama. This order results in Pema's arrest and torture and sparks the rest of the film, which shows Dorjee's path from violent disillusionment to helping the Tibetan underground, and Dolkar's change from a person concerned about money to someone concerned about her fellow Tibetans. The full story is online for people who don't mind spoilers.
Although the story itself is fictitious, some of its material is based on true events experienced by Tibetan refugees. The film is biassed to the extent that its makers want the occupation of Tibet to cease. But, the tone of the website not with-standing, the film is not anti-chinese. Duan-Ping is a very likeable character, doing his best to help in a very strict hierarchical system where higher-ups such as Mr Du make it very clear who is in control. While Duan-Ping and Dolkar's subservience seems unlikely to Western Eyes, I remember seeing it when I lived in China: we had bought sweets from some merchants in a provincial town, but a dispute arose as to who had sold what to us. When the local police intervened, everybody was very subservient to them. Similarly, Pema's torture might seem unlikely, but torture in Tibet is widespread even for trivial offences.
Windhorse's making is a story of its own, and we were lucky to have Thupten Tsering, the film's co-director, at the event to tell us its story. Windhorse was filmed with handheld professional video-cameras. Some scenes were filmed in Lhasa, with ordinary Tibetans risking prison to participate as actors 1 , while others served as lookouts to warn the film-crew when the police were coming. Other scenes used digital wizardry to combine studio actors with film shot in Tibet. The rest was filmed in Kathmandu, Nepal, and at remote locations 12,500 feet up in the Himalayan Mountains.
I was very moved by Windhorse. As is so rare these days, this was not merely due to the music. In fact the realistic non-Hollywoodian style made it more believable and more touching. I would recommend this film to anyone, friend of Tibet or not.