ContemporAsian: Lens on Tibet at MoMA

Nowhere to Call Home

The Museum of Modern Art’s ContemporAsian series on Asian cinema takes a look at Tibetan culture through recent documentaries and dramatic narratives with Lens on Tibet.  This 12-film series is presented in conjunction with the Trace Foundation which was founded to support the continuity, development, and vitality of Tibetan communities through work with people to better their lives and reinforce the uniqueness of Tibetan culture, language, and places.

Series curator Sally Berger writes in MoMA’s blog, Inside/Out, “All films made in China require approval by the government; Tibetan-made films and films on Tibetan subjects require special approval. Therefore, the emergence of a Tibetan-language and cultural cinema—of feature-length narrative and documentary films—made in the region over the last decade is of special interest and note.”  In this series, many films were made in China, but a few were produced outside of China and by non-Chinese or non-Tibetan directors.  These diverse voices present a broad spectrum of ideas and messages about Tibet and go beyond the oft-discussed narrative of the Chinese-Tibetan conflict.

The films to be shown are:

Yartsa Rinpoche (Precious Caterpillar)
Nowhere to Call Home
The Sun Beaten Path
Silent Holy Stones
Summer Pasture
Daughters of Wisdom
A Gesar Bard’s Tale
Son of a Herder
Tantric Yogi
Embrace
The Valley of the Heroes
Kokonor

Of particular interest to us here at Beyond Chinatown are Yartsa RinpocheNowhere to Call HomeThe Sun Beaten Path,  Silent Holy Stones, The Valley of the Heroes, and Kokonor.

Read more about the films and the directors on MoMA’s blog, Inside/Out.

Film descriptions are taken from the ContemporAsian‘s listings and, where available, additional information, trailers, and reviews from various publications are provided.  Our calendar of one-time and short term event calendar will list all the films.

Lens on Tibet runs from August 21 – 31, 2014 at the Museum of Modern Art.


Yartsa Rinpoche (Precious Caterpillar)

2013. China/France. Directed by Dorje Tsering Chenaktsang.

Cordyceps sinensis (in Tibetan, Yartsa-gunbu) has been called “Tibet’s golden worm” and “The Viagra of the Himalayas.” When it was discovered 30 years ago as a natural remedy, it became a boon to Tibetan nomads. Today, some nomadic Tibetan communities bring in as much as 80% of their income collecting it. Yartsa Rinpoche follows Darlo, an elder in the Amdo region, who with his family forms a group of 30 that treks 800 kilometers to collect the “worm,” while exploring its larger implications.” -MoMA

In traditional Chinese medicine, the worm is known as 虫草 / 蟲草.  Between 1998 and 2008, the price of Cordyceps sinensis increased 900%, and its lucrative trade has had social and environmental impact.

For those curious about its therapeutic value, WebMD says:

“Cordyceps is used to treat coughs, chronic bronchitis, respiratory disorders, kidney disorders, nighttime urination, male sexual problems, anemia, irregular heartbeat,high cholesterol, liver disorders, dizziness, weakness, ringing in the ears, unwanted weight loss, and opium addiction.

It is also used for strengthening the immune system, improving athletic performance, reducing the effects of aging, promoting longer life, and improving liver function in people with hepatitis B.

Some people use cordyceps as a stimulant, a tonic, and an “adaptogen,” which is used to increase energy, enhance stamina, and reduce fatigue.”

In Tibetan; English subtitles. 101 min.

Trailer:

Saturday, August 23, 2014, 1:30 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building
Sunday, August 24, 2014, 2:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building
Monday, August 25, 2014, 4:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building
Tuesday, August 26, 2014, 4:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building
Wednesday, August 27, 2014, 4:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


Nowhere to Call Home

2014. USA. Directed by Jocelyn Ford.

“Widowed at 28, Tibetan farmer Zanta defies her tyrannical father-in-law and refuses to marry his other son. When Zanta’s in-laws won’t let her seven-year-old go to school, she flees to Beijing to become a street vendor. Destitute, she inveigles an American customer into paying her boy’s school fees. On a holiday trip back to her village, Zanta’s in-laws take her son hostage, drawing the unwitting American into the violent family feud. The two women forge a partnership in a bid to out-maneuver the in-laws. This “deeply moving” and “ethically challenging” story (Jonathan Watts, The Guardian) provides an intimate and brutally frank view of village family life and the struggles Tibetan migrants face in Beijing.” -MoMA

The New York Times adds “The film breaks down the sometimes romantic Shangri-La view that Westerners have of Tibet, showing it to be a place with many hidebound traditions, especially discrimination against women.”

Forbes says the film presents a “new perspective on Tibet”

More information can be found at the film’s website and its Facebook page.

In Qiang, English, Chinese; English subtitles. 77 min.

Trailer:

Saturday, August 23, 2014, 4:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2 (North American premiere. Followed by discussion with Jocelyn Ford)
Friday, August 29, 2014, 4:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


The Sun Beaten Path

2011. China. Directed by Sonthar Gyal.

“This debut feature from the cinematographer of Pema Tseden’s films, as well as Embrace (also screening in this series), presents the story of a young man making a pilgrimage to Lhasa to overcome the guilt of causing a family member’s death.” -MoMA

Variety and Eastern Kicks have reviews.

In Tibetan, Chinese; English subtitles. 89 min.

Trailer:

Saturday, August 23, 2014, 7:30 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building (New York premiere. Followed by discussion with Sonthar Gyal)
Saturday, August 30, 2014, 1:30 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


Silent Holy Stones

2005. China. Written and directed by Pema Tseden.

“It happens in just 48 hours: “Little Lama,” a 10-year-old Tibetan boy who’s training to become a monk, returns home for New Year’s celebrations. After a long journey on horseback over icy steppes, he finds solace in his family’s new TV, and is unable to pull himself away from serials of Buddhist stories. “You dream too much for a young monk,” his family tells him, and they’re right: the more he watches, the more it becomes clear that there’s no going back to his religious practices. An official selection of the Pusan International Film Festival, the International Buddhist Film Festival, the International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the San Francisco International Film Festival.” -MoMA

Variety‘s review.

In Tibetan, Chinese; English subtitles. 102 min.

Trailer:

Sunday, August 24, 2014, 5:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


Summer Pasture

2010. Tibet/USA. Directed by Lynn True, Nelson Walker, Tsering Perlo.

“In recent years growing pressures from the outside world have posed unprecedented challenges for Tibetan nomads. Rigid government policies, rangeland degradation, and the allure of modern life have prompted many nomadic families to leave the pastures for permanent settlement in towns and cities. Summer Pasture chronicles one summer with a young family amid this period of great uncertainty. With their pastoral traditions confronting rapid modernization, Locho, his wife Yama, and their infant daughter, nicknamed Jiatomah, must reconcile the challenges that drastically threaten to reshape their existence.” -MoMA

The New York Times and Spirituality and Practice have reviews.

In English, Tibetan; English subtitles. 85 min.Trailer:

Monday, August 25, 2014, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2 (Followed by dscussion with Lynn True and Nelson Walker)
Saturday, August 30, 2014, 7:30 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


Daughters of Wisdom

2007. USA. Directed by Bari Pearlman.

“Daughters of Wisdom is an intimate portrait of the lives of a little-known sect of nuns of the Kala Ringo Monastery in remote rural Nangchen, Tibet. Under the leadership of a progressive teacher, the nuns are receiving unprecedented educational and religious training, and preserving their rich cultural heritage even as they slowly reshape it.” -MoMA

Review by The Chicago Tribune (unavailable on the Tribune‘s site)

In Tibetan; English subtitles. 68 min.

Trailer:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2 (Followed by discussion with Bari Pearlman and Lama Norlha Rinpoche)


A Gesar Bard’s Tale

2013. China/Finland. Directed by Donagh Coleman, Lharigtso.

“As a boy, Dawa was an illiterate Tibetan nomad whose life revolved around herding yaks. At 13, his life changed: through a series of visions, Dawa acquired the gift of telling the epic story of Tibet’s King Gesar. Now, at 35, Dawa receives a salary from the Chinese government as a guardian of national cultural heritage and is regarded as a holy man by his community. When an earthquake reduced his hometown to rubble, Chinese redevelopment of the region took a giant leap forward. In the midst of such seismic shifts, Dawa seeks healing from King Gesar and other divine protectors of the land.” -MoMA

In Tibetan; English subtitles. 82 min.

Trailer:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014, 7:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building (Followed by discussion with Donagh Coleman)


Son of a Herder

2014. China. Directed by Tashi Chopel.

“A herder’s son, Gonpo Tseden, has just completed training at a vocational school and is eager to reorient his ideals and ambitions beyond pastoral life. But reality presents him with a challenge and burdensome responsibility—horse racing, nomadic migration, and an illness in the family all compel him to follow the traditional role and values of a herdsman. This film, gorgeously shot in eastern Tibet’s Zehok region, shows us an unembellished portrait of the life of a plateau herder, an existence caught between ideals and reality, modernity and tradition, and individual choices.” -MoMA

In Tibetan; English subtitles. 64 min.

Thursday, August 28, 2014, 4:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2 (World premiere)
Sunday, August 31, 2014, 5:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


Tantric Yogi

2005. China/France. Directed by Dorje Tsering Chenaktsang.

“This film focuses on an enormous ngakpa gathering in eastern Tibet that happens once every 60 years. Ngakpa is a Tibetan cultural and non-monastic spiritual tradition that was founded in the eighth century in which lay people can receive spiritual and cultural education. In following one group of ngakpa as they prepare for the trip from the filmmaker’s home village,Tantric Yogi offers an intimate glimpse into lives of the ngakpa, as well as the daily practice of this ancient tradition.” -MoMA

In English, Tibetan; English subtitles. 50 min.

Embrace

2011. China/Germany/USA. Directed by Dan Smyer Yu, Pema Tashi.

“Embrace presents the complex reciprocal saturation of human communities, gods, Buddha Dharma, and a natural landscape marked with religious significance. Through the narratives of a father and a son, the film documents a ritualized relationship between people, their dwellings, and their natural surroundings. Built around ngakpa tradition and the challenges it faces in a modern world, this well researched, thoughtfully produced, and beautifully shot film provides a glimpse into a rarely seen realm.” -MoMA

In English, Tibetan; English subtitles. 55 min.

Trailer:

Thursday, August 28, 2014, 7:00 p.m., Theater 2, T2 (North American premiere. Followed by a discussion with Pema Tashi)
Sunday, August 31, 2014, 2:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


The Valley of the Heroes

2013. China. Directed by Khashem Gyal.

“This documentary, a project of Kham Film Project, offers a rare portrait of Tibetan Muslims in the Hualong area of eastern Tibet/Qinghai Province. Issues of identity and language are explored in this intimate and sensitive film.”  -MoM

In Tibetan and Chinese; English subtitles. 53 min.

Trailer:

Kokonor

2005. China/France. Directed by Dorje Tsering Chenaktsang.

“For centuries, Tibetan nomads were the only inhabitants on the banks of the sacred Lake Kokonor—the Blue Lake [青海湖]—in Amdo (eastern Tibet). Starting in the 1990s, the area saw a dramatic rise in domestic tourism: It was not just the lake’s beauty that drew tourists but the Tibetan culture in general. This influx of tourists came at a cost: the locals now find themselves having to adapt to new roles in the tourism industry. This glimpse at the Kokonor community examines the transformation of the lives of the Tibetans who live there.” -MoMA

In English, Tibetan, Mandarin; English subtitles. 50 min.

Friday, August 29, 2014, 7:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building (Followed by a discussion with Khashem Gyal)
Saturday, August 30, 2014, 4:00 p.m., Theater 3, mezzanine, Education and Research Building


 

Image: Nowhere to Call Home. 2014.  United States. Directed by Jocelyn Ford. Photo by Alice Carfrae.  Courtesy of the filmmaker.