2 Messages In One/ Second One: Godfather, Dalai Lama

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While I was glancing through and rapidly reading some of a Richard Gere/ Dalai Lama News Article, I came across an interesting sentence. Richard Gere made the Dalai Lama his son's godfather. *Source:Worldnews.com listed the below article, Read down to see that Richard Gere, mentions that the Dalai Lama his his son's godfather. Cappuccino,

Hell on earth

Tibet has long been a Hollywood cause célèbre, but film-makers' depictions of the country tend to linger on the mountains and overlook the massacres. Steve Rose on a set of films aiming to put the record straight.

Friday March 8, 2002 The Guardian

When a group of Europeans crash-land in Tibet in Frank Capra's 1937 fantasy Lost Horizon, they discover the hidden mountain community of Shangri-La, a society free of conflict, disease or poverty. Shangri-La was created, the 200-year-old High Lama tells them, to safeguard the world's cultural and spiritual knowledge, to help the planet rebuild itself after the impending apocalypse. "Here we shall be with their books and their music," he says, "and a way of life based on one simple rule: be kind." This rosy vision could not be further from the truth. After some 50 years of Chinese occupation, Tibet is a land scarred by murder, torture and almost every conceivable form of oppression. Its religion has been hijacked, its monasteries have been destroyed, images of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan flag are outlawed, and Chinese propaganda is the only freely available media. Far from being a repository of culture, Tibet is a culture that has almost been eradicated.

Given the Dalai Lama's continued policy of non-violent resistance, world opinion is one of Tibet's only hopes for change. And given the extent of China's stranglehold on the flow of information to and from Tibet, international film audiences could be crucial allies. Windhorse, an American-Tibetan production that plays at London's Riverside Studios this week, takes its title from the symbol on the flags Tibetans scatter at mountain passes in the hope that their prayers will be carried away. Set in modern-day Lhasa, it is perhaps the only film that accurately depicts the reality of Tibet. The main character, Dolkar (played by a genuine singer called Dadon), is an aspiring Tibetan singer groomed by the Chinese authorities for a national TV broadcast. "We Tibetan people sing our praise joyfully to chairman Mao," she sings in front of a painted Himalayan backdrop in a studio. But she is forced to reconsider her career when she discovers that her cousin, a Buddhist nun, has been imprisoned and tortured. Two real-life nuns, Choeying Kunsang and Passang Lhamo, have been accompanying Windhorse on its world tour, and they confirm its authenticity. "The story of the nun in the film reflects our stories as well as those of many other political prisoners," they say. "We were arrested for shouting slogans in Lhasa in 1994 and 1995. We protested in small groups, and only for a few minutes before being arrested. Our hands were tied behind our backs and cloths and rags were stuffed down our throats to silence us." They were tortured daily, using planks of wood, belt buckles and electric batons.

Unsupervised shooting in Tibet is illegal, but several crucial scenes of Windhorse were filmed there clandestinely. Even in bordering countries like India and Nepal, filming anything to do with Tibet is prohibited for fear of upsetting China. Nepali officials confiscated the Windhorse crew's tapes of an anti-Chinese demonstration in Kathmandu, but the most valuable footage had been smuggled out a few days earlier.

British producer Nick Gray had similar difficulties making his 1994 documentary, Escape From Tibet, which plays at London's Rio cinema. Gray's film followed some of the thousands of Tibetans who undertake the perilous journey across the Himalayas to Nepal on foot. After the documentary was shot, he went back to Tibet and used lapel cameras to obtain footage of Lhasa's mass graves and noto rious Drapchi prison, (where Choeying and Passang were held) neither of which the Chinese will admit exist. Ironically, he says, the most shocking evidence of Chinese brutality towards Tibetans in his documentary came from a videotape filmed by the Chinese themselves - in order to prove to the authorities in Beijing that they were doing their jobs properly.

Even after obtaining footage of Tibet and getting it out , there are still complications, says Gray. "If you film people in Tibet and then show it outside China, the people that you show will be picked up by the police, imprisoned, tortured, even executed. This has happened." Thanks to documentaries like Gray's, and the efforts of the exiled Tibetan community, film-makers have become aware of the situation in Tibet, but their attempts to translate sympathy into film have been of questionable value. Martin Scorsese, Richard Gere, Bernardo Bertolucci and Brad Pitt have all contributed to the Tibetan cause, but with little first-hand experience of the country and no chance of shooting there, their presentation of Tibet has been consistently distorted.

Since Lost Horizon, the fiction of Shangri-La has been irretrievably superimposed on the real Tibet in film-makers' imaginations. And with Capra's kitschy images of Himalayan utopias (shot in California) etched on their consciousness, film-makers invariably find themselves mourning a lost innocence which never existed. The term Shangri-La was invented by Lost Horizon's author, James Hilton, and rapidly entered the language as a byword for secluded paradises - even Franklin D Roosevelt named the presidential mountain retreat after it (Eisenhower changed it to the more sober Camp David). Bertolucci's epic The Last Emperor opened the doors for the modern Tibet film. It was the first foreign movie permitted to film in Beijing's Forbidden City, and won nine Oscars for its demonstration of how well western production values and eastern exoticism could work together. It was an unhealthy precedent which other directors have blindly followed, each attempting to outdo the next with widescreen vistas, colourful pageantry, stirring soundtracks and polite ethnography.

Bertolucci was the first to reapply the formula in a pro-Tibetan way with 1993's Little Buddha - a pompous tale of Buddhist monks in Seattle, intercut with Keanu Reeves as the young Siddartha. Five years later, Martin Scorsese upped the stakes with Kundun, a reverential parable of the Dalai Lama's early life (actually shot in Morocco). Jean-Jacques Annaud's Seven Years in Tibet fell into an even bigger trap. Landscape lover Annaud spared no expense in capturing the pristine splendour of his high-altitude locations (actually Argentina), but he was less thorough on the background research. The film is based on the memoirs of Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, who escaped to Tibet from the British in 1939 and befriended the young Dalai Lama. It later emerged that Harrer had been a card-carrying Nazi since 1933. Without realising it, Annaud had made a $70m celebration of the Hitler's "mountain ethic", closer to Leni Riefenstahl than the Dalai Lama.

The Oscar-nominated French/Tibetan epic Himalaya at least made the effort to actually go to the region in question, but again the landscape went to the film-makers' heads. It was filmed in the Dolpo region of Nepal, which director Eric Valli had previously photographed for National Geographic magazine. Even Richard Gere, whose son's godfather is the Dalai Lama, has had a hard time. His political thriller Red Corner whipped up some anti-Chinese sentiment, but forgot to mention Tibet. George Lucas also made a dubious contribution to the cause with Return of the Jedi - Tibetan is the language spoken by the Ewoks.

But Hollywood's romanticised visions of Tibet are better than no vision at all, say Passang and Choeying. "I saw Kundun recently and liked it very much," says Passang. "I could never have seen this film in Tibet. It is good that whoever watches this film will know about the life of His Holiness and about Tibet's recent history." The situation is still deteriorating in Tibet, particularly in the run-up to Beijing's hosting of the Olympic Games in 2004. A monument to 50 years of "peaceful liberation" is being erected in the centre of Lhasa. Vice-president Ju Hintao, whose brutal reign as governor of Tibet could make him China's next leader, recently asked Blair and Bush for assistance in fighting China's "domestic terrorists".

"We will find a peaceful resolution and will not resort to violence," Passang concludes. "We believe wholeheartedly in the Buddhist principle of compassion. Therefore we feel no anger or resentment to the guards who beat and tortured us, and we have no thoughts of revenge on the Chinese government. We are all living beings and we must try to alleviate suffering instead of causing more."

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-- Me (me@nyc.com), March 08, 2002

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