Interview with Dhondup Wangchen upon receiving 2012 CPJ award
[Thursday, November 29, 2018 18:38]
Congratulations on the CPJ 2012 International Press Freedom Award that you managed to collect in person last week. How does it feel to be recognized by an esteemed organization like the Committee to Protect Journalists? What would you like to say to them?

D. W: When we first began the project, our hope was to share the message and story of Tibetan people with the international community. It was a very special moment to receive the award in person and to see the impact of the film that was made in collaboration with many people who took enormous risk speaking out the truth of the critical situation inside Tibet. I acknowledge this award as a response from the international community that our message has been heard. We are very thankful for CPJ for their support and it's a proud moment for all the Tibetan people.

You spent years in prison in Tibet for filming your documentary Leaving Fear Behind. Were you able to stay in the loop with what’s going on outside and that many people were working to get you out?

D. W: I was under enormous restriction as my case was being raised globally by many individuals, organizations, and some at the national level. Most of the time was spent laboring and there was very little time to interact with inmates, read or listen to news. Even though the reading materials and papers were extremely hard to get, I was occasionally able to hear some news but not in detail or current.

What was your biggest fear while in prison and what helped you keep your sanity?

D. W: I had mentally prepared for the consequences ahead and was very much prepared. Nevertheless, it's a huge challenge as it's not a walk in the park but most of the challenges eased away when I thought of His holiness the Dalai Lama and why I am in the prison. It gave a huge moral inspiration during the very difficult period.

How is your health and your family’s wellbeing after everything that you all went through?

D. W: I have picked up Hepatitis B while I was in prison and occasionally there are some pains. However, my overall health has significantly improved since my release from prison in 2014.

Now that you are here, would you like to screen your documentary at festivals where you can interact with the audience directly?

D. W: Filming for Tibet has done a great job of launching the annual Tibet Film Festival, which encourages Tibetan people to participate in film making. Film has a very tangible and emotional value that has the power to convey stories and messages in a very personal way. There are still many stories of Tibetan movement, history, current situation, and our people that needs to be shared through film or other medium. I am very optimist that with more people getting involved in films through platform such as TFF, we can hope to see some well crafted stories and quality films in the near future. I wish to attend film festivals and interact with audiences around the world once my travel document is ready.

Do you plan to come to India some day?

D. W: Yes, I hope to visit India once my travel document is ready.

Is there anything you would like to add to the content of Leaving Fear Behind?

D. W: Initially, we had interviewed more than 108 people, but because of the nature of the film and for some safety reasons, only a handful of them were shown in the final film. Nevertheless, we are content with how the film turned out and its impact. The recurring theme throughout the film was of people hoping for the return of our leader and more freedom. I believe the very essence of the message would be same as all the Tibetan people have a very similar experience under the Chinese occupied Tibet.

What do you think of our political state of affairs now that you have the first-hand experience of the situation both inside and outside Tibet?

D. W: The situation inside Tibet has gotten far worse since 2008. There are more restrictions on traveling, practicing religion, doing business, and many faces a huge livelihood challenges. As a result, more than 160 Tibetan people have self-immolated in protest of the ever growing challenges inside Tibet. The situation outside Tibet is somewhat very similar. China aims to become the global super power. We are witnessing more and more countries pushing Tibet issue out of their agendas for the fear of China's economic might. I believe we are living in one of the most critical time period in the history of Tibet.

What is your future aspiration?

D. W: It was a bittersweet moment to escape my country. I have gotten a few great opportunities to meet with leaders and people to share my firsthand experience. I hope to continue speaking about the critical situation of our country.