There is no untainted cinematic insight into the suppression and abuses inside Tibet, no full exposure of the harrowing realities of forced sterilizations, the destruction of a nomadic culture through a policy of re-settlement, nor any detailed documentary recording the environmental pillage. Which is transforming once verdant pastures and forests into a lunar-like landscape, with convoys of trucks heading back to communist China with their booty of timber and minerals. The transformation of Tibetan towns into yet another Chinese concrete facsimile, complete with gaudy excess and a range of previously unknown erosive social problems, continues apace, un-documented.
No genuine independent film-making is of course possible under such a repressive totalitarian regime, one desperate to convince the world that Tibet is undergoing positive change, thanks, we are asked to accept, to the seemingly compassionate rule of communist China. Unfortunately we’re denied any unbiased evidence which would reveal the progress claimed by the communist regime.
What we do have are seemingly unlimited amounts of Chinese films on Tibet, mostly designed for television broadcast, with sickly images of Tibetans dancing and singing in praise of yet another bumper-harvest, due no doubt to China’s enlightened agricultural policies. These are transparent disinformation with actors supposedly dressed in traditional Tibetan costumes, color coded to match the red and yellow branding of the communist Chinese flag! Barely able to move due to the overly abundant costume jewellery and obligatory fixed smile, set against images of modernity Chinese-style, like a crude layer of make-up they conceal a more disturbing reality.
Over recent years however a subtler form of propaganda has emerged, more cinematic, carefully crafted to present some illusion of balance and independence, yet the underlying message remains the same, albeit diluted and sophisticated. A rising directorial star of this Chinese state approved cinematic style is Mr Pema Tseden, or as he is known by his friends within the Communist Party Of China, Wanma Caida. Being a loyal citizen of communist China he carries a Chinese name along with his Tibetan version.
Couple days back his film ‘Jinpa’ was awarded top prize at France’s Festival International des Cinémas d’Asiethe. Like his previous works this film is a slick production filmed inside Tibet. While aesthetically his films have charm and nuance they cynically misdirect the viewer away from the brutal realities of life for Tibetans under Chinese rule. The alluring personal narratives and stunning landscapes he plays around with are an approved sleight-of-hand which assiduously avoid the erosion and oppression of Tibetan culture.
It is a reality which the Director surely knows dare not speak its name, his films clearly meet the propaganda requirements imposed by the Chinese regime, in that context he is a willing and conscious collaborator. Perhaps that explains his insistence that: “…filmmakers are starting to more accurately capture the essence of life in Tibet. They are starting to let go of the old stereotypes.” SOURCE
Those who see his films at festivals or art-houses need to be mindful of this. Sure his work can be selectively interpreted as offering “.. an uncompromising view of difficulty in modern society. They’re not deliberately provocative, but they also don’t offer us comfortable resolutions.”. A view presented by one Robert Barnet of Columbia University, top grade for nuanced euphemism there!
However the ‘difficulties’ of forced-labor camps, torture, ethnic-‘cleansing’ and cultural erosion do not feature in the cinematic vision of Pema Tseden. While the ‘modern society’ (translating as occupied and oppressed Tibet and its culture) is never truly explored and it’s important to remind yourself that the work of Pema Tseden would not be made public without the authorization of the Chinese regime.
In consideration of that we need to question what is it about his films that receives such approval?