By GUY DIXON
The National Film Board of Canada is proceeding on ethical eggshells with a new documentary on Tibet scheduled to premiere next week during the Dalai Lama's stay in Toronto.
Unlike recent documentaries that examine Tibet from the outside looking in -- by interviewing, for instance, leading Tibetan Buddhist figures living in exile -- the film What Remains of Us talks to Tibetans within Tibet.
The filmmakers smuggled a videotape into the country that shows a five-minute message by the Dalai Lama. The Tibetans then talk on camera about the message and their lives, an act that puts them at risk of imprisonment by Chinese authorities.
Because Tibetans can be jailed just for watching a videotape of the religious leader, the NFB, which signed on as a co-producer during in the latter stages of the film's production, has gone the extra step of alerting both Ottawa and Tibetan representatives in Dharamsala, India, about the documentary and plans to keep an unusually tight rein on how the film is shown publicly.
The fear is that a copy of the film could get into the hands of Chinese authorities and be used to track down those Tibetans who spoke on camera. So the NFB is being very cautious in how the documentary is shown and about security at the theatre to prevent recording devices from being brought in.
The filmmakers also took a number of precautionary steps in making the documentary. The locations of the interviews throughout Tibet are not named, and the sequence of the interviews is mixed within the film. "And nobody is identified by name," said André Picard, director-general of the NFB's French program, who helped oversee the film board's involvement with the film.
Tibetans who were interviewed were asked if they wanted to see the Dalai Lama's message. About one quarter declined, Picard said. After being shown the videotape, another quarter didn't want to be filmed talking about themselves and their feelings about the Dalai Lama.
Picard said the Dalai Lama was aware of the nature of the documentary when he recorded his message. But Picard is also careful to note that representatives in Dharamsala have only since seen the film. "We weren't consulting them whether we should proceed or not [in showing the film to a larger audience]. I don't think that would have been appropriate," Picard said.
"We sent them the film. It had been screened by a number of individuals in different positions, and they thought the film was very good, a very moving film and they said be cautious."
In other words, the NFB and the filmmakers - Montreal-based François Prévost, who works as a medical doctor in Inuit communities, documentary maker Hugo Latulippe, and Prévost's partner Kalsang Dolma, whose father is a Tibetan in exile -- are the ones taking responsibility for the documentary, which took seven years to make.
The filmmakers consulted with the Canada Tibet Committee, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during filming, and the NFB is going the unusual extra step of alerting those groups again, as well as others such as the Tibetan Information Network.
What Remains of Us is scheduled to premiere at Toronto's Hot Docs film festival on Tuesday, April 27, with the NFB considering showing the film after that, very cautiously, screen by screen.