The Sun Behind the Clouds captures the fifty years of Tibetan struggle for freedom. Made by Tibetan filmmaker Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin, the film has been in the eye of storm at Palm Spring Film Festival in the US, where the Chinese authorities tried to browbeat the organizers, pressurizing them to cancel the screening, however, the festival refused to buckle. The 11th Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF) holds the first festial screening of the film in India.
Nandita Dutta caught up with filmmakers at the 11th MFF in Mumbai.
What were the challenges you faced during the shooting of this film?
Tenzing: Our primary idea when we started working on this film was to look at Tibet after 50 years of its fall. As we began, the uprising of March 2008 took place and we found ourselves covering the events as they unfolded. Our initial plans went haywire. We were so caught up in the events yet had to look at them objectively. This was a major challenge.
Ritu: While filming the Return to Tibet march in India, Tenzing and our son Mila were in a camp with the marchers when police blockaded the camp side deep in the mountains of Uttarakhand. They were trapped in the camp for ten days along with the marchers. The police almost arrested them when my son cried-“I am a minor, you can’t arrest me.”
What gave you such a close access to the Dalai Lama?
Ritu: We had filmed the Dalai Lama many times before. The first time we had filmed him was in 1986 on a tour to Europe. We also filmed him when he received the Nobel Prize for Peace. So getting through to him was not a difficulty.
The Chinese officials repeatedly said that the assertions presented in The Sun Behind the Clouds were all lies. Your comments?
Tenzing: The Chinese live in a world that is either black or white. Whatever doesn’t represent their point of view is a lie. All they had seen of our film was the trailer that was there on the website about Tibetan struggle for freedom. They thought it was an anti-Chinese film.
What did you think of the Chinese officials trying to stall the screening of The Sun behind the Clouds at Palm Springs?
Ritu: We didn’t expect them to go this far. The Chinese have always tried to stall the screenings of the films they didn’t like at film festivals, but withdrawing two of their films for this purpose went a bit too far. We feel sad for the Chinese film makers whose films were pulled out of the festival.
How difficult it is to make a film on such an issue objectively when the filmmaker is involved in it?
Tenzing: There is always a dilemma. When a subject matter has you emotional involvement, how do you take an objective view of it? I am a Tibetan refugee and an activist myself, I can’t be completely objective. Within that perspective, I have tried not to be propagandist. These day people are increasing turning against the Middle Way Approach of the Dalai Lama. But my challenge was to present it in such a way that no one from my own community can point fingers at me and say that he is anti Dalai Lama.
Ritu: Through this film, we have just tried to provide a common space where everyone can come together to understand the issue.
What do you expect your film to achieve?
Ritu: We expect our film to raise awareness about what is happening in Tibet. It should also spark a debate among the Tibetan community about the best way to move forward.