Viewing Tibet

The Dalai Lama’s visit to the White House in mid-February has brought the plight of Tibet back into the news. Yet even when that story does resurface, there is rarely much insightful explanation.  That’s what is great about young filmmakers like Veronica Jerry Mukhia, who is of Nepalese heritage and currently living in NYC.  Her film Rangzen! (Independence) is an original and insightful introduction to the issue of Tibetan independence. Meanwhile, her work Reflections is a more meditative piece, complementing the historical analysis of Rangzen! with a philosophical assessment of the nature of storytelling.

What’s important to note about Rangzen! is that, rather than launch a simplistic diatribe against China, Mukhia introduces the history through Jamyang Norbu, a passionate Tibetan author/activist in the exile community, and Tom Gunfield, a dispassionate author and historian with expertise in the subject.  The two have a conversation while Mukhia graphically represents the events of March 2008 when protests markedly flared up in Lassa.  While protests take place on most anniversaries of the Chinese takeover, that year ordinary Tibetans joined ranks with monks—the resulting violence and Chinese crackdown led to protests all over the world, including in New York City.  Norbu makes forceful points about Tibetan independence and stresses that, even though philosophically non-violent, the Tibetan movement is still made up of frustrated human beings, noting that “trauma” can lead to important change. Meanwhile, Professor Gunfield offers a convincing historical analysis of the relationship between China and Tibet. In his view, it has long been “ambiguous,” with Tibet always somewhat independent from the power structure of China. 

Mukhia’s other short film, Reflections, shows how she can render a tone-poem of sorts out of very well-executed images of nature (many so skillful you could see them used in an advertisement.) These are complemented by her narration of observations about and around nature that express Buddhist ideas regarding a certain understanding and silence. The intrinsic beauty of nature, she says, can in itself constitute a story.  Part of the short film elicits mediation specifically on light and shadows and the narrator asks, “Do we really understand stories?”  While Buddhist, this also reminds one of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where shadows had a certain meaning based in a perception of what was making them when, in fact, they could be something very different. 

The American cultural scene has a long and vibrant history (it might be, in fact, its defining history) of the knowledge, vision, and sensibilities of non-natives contributing to its vitality.  What is important about Mukhia’s work is that she represents a working filmmaker proficient in the craft who is working in America and contributing her unique vision to inform American culture—something that a born and bred US citizen cannot do. 

For more on Mukhia’s work, go to


Williams Cole


FEB 2010

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