TIBET IN SONG (director/writer: Ngawang Choephel; screenwriter: Tara Steele; cinematographer: Hugh Walsh; editors: Tim Bartlett/Laura J. Corwin; music: Ngawang Choephel; Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ngawang Choephel/Tara Steele/Yiddon Thonden/Don Thompson; New Yorker Video; 2009-USA-in English and Tibetan with English subtitles)
“Ngawang Choephelpassionately chronicles his harrowing journey into Tibet in 1995 to try and recover the lost rich Tibetan traditional folk music that was being systematically eradicated by the Chinese conquerors of Tibet.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director-writer- musicologist Ngawang Choephelpassionately chronicles his harrowing journey into Tibet in 1995 to try and recover the lost rich Tibetan traditional folk music that was being systematically eradicated by the Chinese conquerors of Tibet, who invaded under false pretenses in 1950 under Chairman Mao to liberate Tibet and instituted a brutal regime that forbids dissent and aims to destroy the Tibetan culture and their language. In 1959 the young Dalai Lama fled his country for freedom to go in exile in India and was joined by thousands of Tibetans, including the 2-year-old Ngawang Choephel and his family.
Choephel is a graduate of Middlebury College, in Vermont, who in 1995 undertook the dangerous trip to Tibet to record with video equipment the precious folk music of Tibet that precedes even the introduction of Buddhism to Tibet from India. The unspoiled traditional music was totally Tibetan and did not come from any other country. The Tibetan music reflects the everyday life routines of the Tibetans, and it’s the music that helps make a Tibetan best feel his ethnic roots. In Lhasa, the capital city, Choephel observed loudspeakers in public places playing the foreign Chinese patriotic music and nowhere could be found the outlawed Tibetan traditional music–banned by the Chinese who considered the Tibetan music a poison and anti-revolutionary. The ethno-musicologist then went to the countryside and remote areas in the hills, where he found the music he was looking for barely kept alive by a few brave Tibetans. But in the repressive climate, the Chinese arrested him and sentenced the innocent victim to an 18-year prison term for spying. His mother led a vigil for him, joined by Vermont politicians, college students, activists and celebrities and he was released in 2002 due to international pressure after serving nearly seven years.
The compelling film serves as an historical record of the Chinese government’s attempt to force the Tibetans to give up their ethnicity to become second-class members of China. The film outlines the non-violent protests of the Tibetans and the great military force used against such a peaceful people by the monstrous Chinese authorities. It’s a heartbreaking film that shows there’s not much to be optimistic about the chances of Tibet being a sovereign country again. The film-maker was able to salvage some remarkably beautiful cinematography from Tibet (when arrested the Chinese confiscated half of his footage) and some Tibetan folk songs get into the film, as the intrepid Choephel completes the film while living in NYC after his prison release. The heartfelt film serves as a reminder to the world how despotic governments bring hardship to the world and how freedom is a person’s most cherished inalienable right.
REVIEWED ON 3/4/2012 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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