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
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The people who are making a film called “Dharamsala” must endeavor to fulfill their mission and complete the film. Tibetan entrepreneurs and wealthy members who are remembering the hardships of their parents when they arrived in India in the 1960s after the brutal invasion and occupation of Tibet by communist China should help financially if they can, in order to fulfill the wishes of their diseased parents who never got to tell their stories in exile since Tibetans in that era were road construction workers and coolies in different parts of India. Tibetans were settling down in their new environment after a traumatic and often perilous journey across the Himalayas from occupied Tibet. The young generation of Tibetans born in exile have the responsibility not only to continue the struggle for Tibet’s rightful independence but also contribute towards disseminating information to tell our story to the world. We are best suited to tell our experience in exile and the hardships that we have encountered in a foreign country where we were a bunch of losers who had nothing except the clothes on our backs and an empty bowl in our hands!
The films made by Tenzin Sonam and Ritu Sarin such as “Dreaming Lhasa”, “The Sweet Requiem”, “we are no monks” by Pema Dhondup and “THE SUN BEHIND THE CLOUDS” etc about Tibet’s occupation by communist China have brought powerful awareness about the plight of Tibet. Films, documentaries, print, audio and visual media are powerful tools to tell the world of our nation’s history, current occupation, oppression, assimilation and the fight for the liberation of our country from foreign occupation. Therefore, the evil CCP and it’s lackeys are very worried about the exposure their genocidal subjugation of Tibet and it’s people and want to control and discourage Tibetans making powerful films that has the propensity to change international public opinion. It’s one of the reasons why their running dogs are creating confusion and distraction to discourage Tibetans from supporting such projects! The way to win people’s heart is to tell our story and the better we are able to tell our story, the more sympathy, understanding and support we will get. If we are unable to express ourselves properly, no one will know what happened to us! This is what the CCP wants in order to fulfil their evil design of swallowing Tibet for good! The CCP fooled the world with their propaganda about occupied Tibet till 1987 after the Great Tibetan People’s Uprising of 1959! No one believed our story and instead believed the CCP’s propaganda! Our story was treated merely as refugee statements!
The massive demonstrations from the length and breadth of occupied Tibet in 2008 made Tibet issue one of ten flash points in international political consensus. We must use all mediums to highlight the brutal occupation, religious persecution, colonisation and the genocide that is being perpetrated by communist China. Every Tibetan should contribute in the struggle for the independence of Tibet and tell our story in exile. Remember 156 fellow Tibetans have offered their precious body to date on fire for the national independence of Tibet! A film like “DHARAMSALA” will be one drop towards that coveted goal.
Lao Shoanian La, I don’t have any time for anyone who has nothing original to say but keep parroting the old worn-out sayings, i.e., “This is the kind of mentality that failed Tibet in the past.” Plus, why would you assume that I’m a man and has a personal grudge against the director (Not asking for a reply!)
Tenzin Kalden La, honesty in your opinions is what matters the most. I didn’t get what you meant by “benchmark of income and savings.”
I think Dazel can find joy in the material paucity. She should embrace it. This is a test of our times that we can fight against many hurdles in creative expression through any medium. Dazel must never forget often audiences find deeper resonance with the journey of the film and its maker: the stories behind the lens. When Dazel decided to make her first film Seeds (2009), she had no training in filmmaking. She bought a cheap second-hand camera and spent most of her savings shooting a film about the confused young Tibetans in big cities like Delhi. It takes so much courage to do that. One could do nothing but feel moved by her conviction in her dreams. She did that again with Royal Cafe’. But here is where she is making a mistake: she only needs money to compensate for everything in filmmaking. Many big-budget films are being scrapped every week—money is not the solution. I have no intention of demoralizing her effort. I have seen her journey as a film enthusiast. If I have any ill intentions, I won’t bother to engage and think through in writing this comment. I have read an article by the director about how it is important to be selfish to make your mark sometimes (check her interview on Phayul news). She should acknowledge the ‘privilege’ she enjoys as a well-networked person with rice-dal Intellectual frauds. Not everyone has the capacity to link with artists, actors and donors from all over the world. There are thousands of Tibetans who live from hand to mouth. She should take out a camera, go to the roadside sellers in Dharamshala and ask about their lives; they will tell you why they open their shops even during the monsoon, barely covering themselves from the thunderous rain under the tarpaulin sheets. In their entire lifetime, they won’t be able to save a quarter of what Dazel expects to spend on this film. My assertion was that she shouldn’t forget her roots. A little bit of humility will take you miles further. This humility to work in anonymity with no support for her first film is now missing. You may capture your story on better frames and lenses with a help of professional cinematographers, but it’s empty. There is no Dazel which we were able to sense behind those untrained shaky movements of the camera, who not only wrote the scripts but designed clothes and sets, who was a director and spot-boy at the same time. She is after a masterpiece when you have already created one. You may not get called for an exclusive director’s interview at a film festival, but you do not need any validation. Your desire to act and your conviction to finish your previous films will stay long in future decades. But by allocating these exchange options to contribute to this project, you are making a deal with the devil. Always and always embrace anonymity.
And alacrity: You should go back to youtube watching Mukbang videos and make your comments over there; they might give you a like on your facetious comments in Hindi.
Shonu Sarpa … by your logic, no film should ever be made before all Tibetans meet your benchmark of income and savings. And at least have the honesty to publish your real name when you leave a comment.
This guy who calls himself Shonu Sarpa Sounds like he has an axe to grind against the person who is trying to make a film called “Dharmsala” through crowd funding! I would suggest the fellow should show respect to others and their endeavours. Just as you are entitled to do what you want to in your life by the same token others are equally entitled to do what they want to do. You are nobody to sit in judgement and criticise them for no apparent reason than jealousy and hatred.
Without bringing in CTA civil servants monthly pay nonsense, let those who want to donate if they wish. Not everyone is grumpy like you in Dharmsala to spew venom against those who are bringing new ideas and encouraging young talents of the future. With your mentality, it seems like everybody should sit on their fat bottom and do nothing because it goes against the grain of someone else’s misfortune! This is the kind of mentality that failed Tibet in the past. We were left behind while the world went by!!!
Open your mind and have an open attitude to new ideas, new programmes, new inventions and experiment with them to break new path ways for a better future! Don’t stunt innovation! Hope you are living in the free world and not in communist China! If you living in CCP mega prison, you are forgiven!
Dazel should learn to persevere with humility. Do you know that an average Tibetan office worker in Dharamshala can’t imagine saving a total of 10 lacs in their entire lifetime of service? And you want 40 lacs for your film about your life. All of your previous films are about yourself. Your first was about your time in Delhi before you left for France. So, you made films for each of the countries. Now you want to make a comeback movie to align with your visit to Dharamshala. This is a daylight robbery in the name of flourishing creativity within the community. You can compensate the technicians and actors with cash, but how do you aim to compensate for the lack of execution in film direction and shoddy scripts in your previous films? Have you upgraded yourself? Or is it just that you have bettered your personal network with Dharamshala’s DEY/DAL friend circle? Rice/Dal because they are so common almost everywhere. You will usually find them during launch events; doesn’t matter whether it is a book, a music album, or a documentary film. Their faces are so common and rundown that one can only think of Dey/Dal as the apt description of this ubiquity.
Fruition of this project is anxiously awaited by moi. Everyone please contribute however you can, for the philanthropic act can be exercised muchly without leaving a dent on your wallet or breaking your bank.