Last week the Dalai Lama turned 75, and there was a mass of news and opinion from around the world to consider about the spiritual leader. And, perhaps not surprisingly, most of this coverage seemed to highlight the current speculation and uncertainly looming over the future of Tibet and its people.
But while news of such politically difficult situations can often be disheartening to dwell on, I feel lucky to have the privilege to counterbalance it with stories I hear from journalists, photographers and writers who have recently been to some of these turbulent and troubled regions of the world. For whether it’s Iran or Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan or Burma, it seems consistently the case that they want us to remember that there’s so much more to any country than what the mainstream media usually allows us to see.
Aside from the politics and security that dominate mainstream news coverage, there’s culture, art and community—things that very much create the intricate ties that bind people together and define their day-to-day lives, aspirations and identities.
A perfect example comes from diplomat and photographer Tom Kuczynski, who I interviewed a couple of months ago and whose photo essay, ‘Illuminating Iran,’ we will be featuring this week. I remember him telling me how meaningful he found his interactions with the people of Iran while he was there. I also recall how it stood out for me that in reference to his Iran photo project, he stated:
‘…how deep, rich and complex the human tapestry is, so far from the one-dimensional concepts tailored for the convenience of evening news.’
But back to Tibet, a new documentary, The Sun Behind the Clouds, which has already picked up awards from international film festivals and mostly positive reviews from movie critics has screenings scheduled in the US and Europe throughout the summer. This is a work that may also further illuminate the Tibetan people and give a more in-depth insight into their situation.
According to the film’s official website, The Sun Behind the Clouds was made by a couple from India who had intimate access to the Dalai Lama, having been granted permission to follow him over the course of ‘an eventful year,’ (2008), including during the 2008 protests in Tibet, the Beijing Olympics and the breakdown in talks between the leader’s representatives and the Chinese government. It further asserts that this timely shooting period has allowed the documentary to explore the ‘interplay between the personal and the historic, spirituality and politics, and the tension between the Dalai Lama’s efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Tibet situation based on compromise and dialogue, and the impatience of a younger generation of Tibetans who are ready to take a more confrontational course.’
As mentioned, reviews of the film have been largely positive. The LA Times calls The Sun Behind the Clouds ‘beautiful, stirring and inescapably elegiac,’ while industry magazine Variety gives credit to the objectivity of the work—that it manages to provide ‘a two-sided view of the complex political and social dynamics within and outside Tibet.’ And the Boston Globe, far from objective in its review, points out that although ‘wondrous colour and beauty often fill the screen’ in the form of ‘monks’ robes, protesters’ banners, the spectacular Himalayan landscape,’ that the ‘most wondrous of all’ is the on-screen presence of the Dalai Lama himself, who makes the picture entirely worth watching.