By Tenzin Dazel
In 2007, Tibetan-Indian filmmaking duo Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin were being interviewed about their first feature film “Dreaming Lhasa” during which they spoke of the challenges of getting their project off the ground. They said in the interview “we were working in a bit of a void as there is nothing that comes even close to a Tibetan film industry, and we had to put everything together within a very limited budget.” Now, some 15 years later, even though there have been many positive developments in terms of Tibetan art and creativity, I find myself in a similar position for my first feature film, “DHARAMSALA”.
I made my first two short films with almost no budget. “SEEDS”, an experimental film about young Tibetans in Delhi, was shot in 2009 while I was on vacation from work. It was filmed using friends and volunteers as cast members and a Super 8 camera that I’d bought in a second-hand store in Paris. Likewise, with “ROYAL CAFÉ” in 2016, a film about the transient life of recent immigrant Tibetans in Paris, it was more, ‘beg, borrow, and steal’ than, ‘location budget, crew budget, talent budget’. Despite so many risks and challenges to making independent Tibetan films in exile, I am very proud of those two films, mainly because they tell stories of who we are today and how our lives are playing out. These are stories nobody else will, or can, tell.
The reason we succeeded in producing “ROYAL CAFE” with no budget was because it was a compact film that took place in one city and with virtually the entire cast and crew being local. However, a film like “DHARAMSALA” has all of the problems inherent in the practice of exile Tibetan filmmaking. Unlike almost every other society, exile Tibetans are faced with a situation where we are spread across countries and continents. This makes it that much harder to work with the already very small number of creatives involved in the movie making process.
When making “Dreaming Lhasa”, Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin spoke of the challenges involved in casting since back then there were very few Tibetan film actors with acting experience. Happily, I’m fortunate to be working now during a time when a lot of Tibetan talent is coming up both in front of and behind the camera. Since “ROYAL CAFE”, many Tibetan artists such as these expressed their trust and encouragement in me and offered to work with me on future projects. Thanks to their help and support, even throughout the pandemic period I was able to assemble cast and crew members, location hunt and complete an 80-page screenplay for “DHARAMSALA”. For example, lead actor Tenzin Dalha from a theatre background has transitioned to a successful career in Bollywood. His films have been screened internationally and are also on Netflix. US-based Losang Gyatso may be familiar to those who have seen “Kundun” and he has also kindly offered his amazing artwork as Perks on the crowdfunding page. Yeshe Gyaltag is a Tibetan singer and artist born and raised in Switzerland, now based in New York. She has released pioneering electronic sounds and her most recent work was “49 Days”, a dance and sound-based theatre piece which premiered in early 2022 in Zurich.
The cast and crew I have assembled are the bright shining lights of our Tibetan creative scene and I’m excited to proudly show the world how much talent we have and what we can do together artistically. However, in order to bring it all to life, I first have to raise the capital. That’s why I’ve started an Indiegogo Crowdfunding page [ https://igg.me/at/Dharamsalafilmproject/x/37773#/ ] because basically there are no other options to raise capital for films in the Tibetan language that speak to the Tibetan audience. Institutions and media companies that might fund a travel film, or a documentary on Tibetan culture or religion geared for a Western audience, have no interest in a film such as mine. Also, the growing influence of China and their willingness to apply pressure on cultural institutions when it comes to Tibet has increased self-censorship and distancing from projects like ours. The funds I raise will go towards travel, board and lodging, nominal pay for cast and crew so that we start establishing a film production culture, and post-production.
The Indiegogo page introduces “DHARAMSALA”, the story of the film and also the story behind it. My hope is that fellow Tibetans and film lovers will use the opportunity to financially support Tibetan creatives so that we can tell our own stories in our own ways. It is my sincere hope that in 2037, 15 years from now, a Tibetan filmmaker starting out will find themselves inspired by the groundwork laid by previous Tibetan filmmakers and be working in a financially resilient and thriving Tibetan creative environment.
Link to Indiegogo page: https://igg.me/at/Dharamsalafilmproject/x/37773#/
 indieWIRE INTERVIEW | “Dreaming Lhasa” Co-Directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam https://www.indiewire.com/2007/04/indiewire-interview-dreaming-lhasa-co-directors-ritu-sarin-and-tenzing-sonam-74830/
(Views expressed are her own)
The author is an independent Tibetan filmmaker based in Paris, France. She made her first short film “SEEDS” in 2009, followed by her longer short film “ROYAL CAFÉ” in 2016. “DHARAMSALA” will be her first feature film. Follow https://www.instagram.com/dazelfilms/ for updates.
You can Watch her previous two films on www.dazelfilms.com