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Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion
2003 - - 104 Mins.
Director: Tom Peosay
Producer: Maria Florio
Written By: Victoria Mudd, Sue Peosay
Review by: Greg Ursic

Turning a blind eye to tyranny
For centuries, Tibet ruled as the dominant military powerhouse in south and central Asia. That all came to an end in the 17th century when the ruling king disbanded the armies and became a monk, setting the stage for a faith-focused society in search inner peace and wherein succession was determined by reincarnation. Surrounded by formidable geological barriers – deserts, vast mountain ranges and impenetrable river gorges - the country remained isolated for centuries. However when Mao seized power in China in 1949, he embarked on the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” and while there is little that’s peaceful about a full out armed assault on a country, after displacing the monarchy, it appeared that the Chinese really did want to help – many Tibetans recall friendly soldiers pitching in to help with the harvest or exchanging kind words. But the situation quickly changed after the 14th Dalai Lama visited Beijing. Mao’s final words - “Religion is poison” - were a veiled warning of what was to come as the Chinese began expropriating land and attacking the clergy.

The opening sequences of Tibet The Cry of the Snow Lion present a striking collage of stunning vistas showcasing towering snow capped peaks, festivals with brilliantly colored costumes and relaxed pastoral scenes, then roughly propels the viewer into the midst of the 1987 Lhasa demonstrations during which 100’s of protestors were wounded and killed. The result is both shocking and effective.

The documentary is the culmination of nine trips to Tibet spanning a decade, during which the filmmakers interviewed dozens of subjects, ranging from historians to peasants and took hundreds of hours of film to document the effects of five decades of occupation. It is hard to comprehend the scale of what has befallen the country in that time: Tibetans are routinely beaten and jailed for such “offences” as having a picture of the Dalai Lama, thousands of sacred Tibetan manuscripts have been destroyed, 6259 monasteries have been leveled leaving tens of 1000’s of monks and nuns homeless, 1.2 million Tibetans (one out of every six) have been killed and executions are still routine. The Chinese have also embarked on a program of cultural genocide.

In addition to the 300,000 Chinese troops in the region (for whom 658 brothels were established in the holy city of Lhasa) the Chinese government provides financial incentives for emigration, which has led to a rush of entrepreneurs looking to strike it rich. Consequently there are now more Chinese in the cities than there are Tibetans and all decent paying jobs are reserved for those who speak Chinese: as Tibetans can not afford to send their children to school (tuition is more than the average Tibetan earns in a year) the vast majority of youth are uneducated and unemployed. This has earned Tibet the nickname “The Apartheid of Asia”.

Except for fighting by a small force of Tibetan CIA backed guerillas in the 50’s and 60’s it is clear that the Tibetans truly remain resolved to the concept of winning through peace. This is echoed in the words of scores of interviewees (all conducted in the open and in public to avoid rousing suspicion) as they detail their torture and imprisonment: none betray a hint of vitriol or hatred indeed several claim that they feel sorry for the Chinese. Unfortunately for the Tibetans, trade is more important than human lives on the world stage.

It is impossible to claim ignorance when confronted with evidence presented by men such as Palden Gyatso, a monk who was imprisoned for 33 years and smuggled out various instruments of torture, or shocking secret police videos that detail beatings. But that’s exactly what the world has done. The Tibetans’ only real ally, the US, abandoned them in the early 70’s when the US sought a political alliance with the Chinese against the USSR. Now that China has become an economic powerhouse, no nation is willing to risk the loss of such a huge trading partner. Not surprisingly, the UN has largely remained mute on the subject. As Jean Kirkpatrick, the former US Ambassador to the UN notes ”What the West has done is avert its eyes while the genocide takes place in Tibet.” A new impetus for peace however comes from an unlikely source: within China.

Chinese human rights activist Wei Jingsheng, who has spent 18 years behind bars for activism, has called attention to the plight of the Tibetans. It is his hope that the people of China and Tibet can help resolve the problems together, something that the Dalai Lama has repeatedly spoken of. And the message appears to be taking hold as witnessed by the huge contingent of Chinese who went to see the Dalai Lama speak in Taiwan.

Tibet: the Cry of the Snow Lion is skillfully edited, engaging and informative. It is also difficult to watch and listen to, but therein in lies the power of it’s message: you can not help but feel hope when you witness the amazing spiritual resolve of a people who, in spite disenfranchisement, torture, imprisonment and a calculated campaign to extinguish their culture refuse to waiver from their beliefs. This film should be required watching for every present and future head of state.

Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

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