Home Arts Keeping the courage

Keeping the courage

by The Concordian September 6, 2011
With dozens of communities claiming various areas of the city as havens from their homelands, Montreal can raise its multicultural flag high.
But despite however many espressos one drinks at cafes in Little Italy, or the number of times one wanders down the streets of Chinatown, there’s still a certain level of disconnect that comes with living in a North American city, where many people are entirely cut off from news of the strife of other countries. One of the antidotes to this lack of understanding is to highlight issues through film.
Tibet: Land of the Brave is a documentary that will bridge this gap for Tibetan Montrealers. This film chronicles the situation of the nomad communities in the region as they try to maintain their way of life.
Tibetan-born Gyamtso, his Quebecer wife Marijo and their daughter Yangchen travel to Tibet for the birth of the couple’s second child. Gyamtso hasn’t been to his native country for 13 years, since he left for India, where he met Marijo. After the couple was married, they moved to Montreal.
As the film progresses, the audience can see the changes to Gyamtso’s home through his eyes, adding a level of human connection to the film that personifies the struggle his family has seen though the years.
Through interviews with Gyamtso’s family, coupled with the breathtaking footage of the Tibetan landscape, the film manages to relay the characters’ personal story while revealing larger issues at hand.
It is an endeavour that, as director Geneviève Brault explained, was a long time in the making.
“From 2003 to about today—that’s how long we’ve been working trying to get this together,” she said.
Accompanying the family on their two trips to Tibet, Brault took on the task of capturing the nomads’ way of life, which was neither an easy task, nor the safest.
“I was worried, of course, from day one because it’s not the safest thing to do, to take a camera and take the risk to go to Tibet and film with it. However, we made up stories, we had stories about us being cousins that we had to rehearse to make sure we got straight if something happened to us,” she said. “But in the end, we had no problem; the equipment we used was very limited.”
What she was not entirely prepared for was the reactions of the nomads themselves, who were just as fascinated by the newcomers as the film crew was by their lifestyle and traditions.
“For the first maybe one or two weeks, it was hard to get them to just be natural for the camera because they would just be so concerned by you and how different you looked,” Brault recalled. “And then eventually they forgot all about it and we were able to capture all the shots.”
The area of Tibet where Gyamtso’s family lives, and where the documentary was shot, is in the four Chinese provinces—Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan—which are outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. This is where many of the remaining nomads can be found.
Since the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese in 1950, nomads who had maintained a certain lifestyle for thousands of years have seen their population decline and their traditions put in peril as the Chinese try to push them to change their ways.
“China is now trying to move into the modernized world, they’re trying to become a developed country. They’re really powerful economically. So that’s the reason they give the nomads, they want to be like the United States,” Brault explained. “And they tell us that in order for us to contribute to China’s evolution, we need to step into that modernization.”
One of the issues explored in the film is how, as this pattern progresses and the nomads are put under more pressure to change their ways, they will see their numbers die out. This played a large role in Brault’s motivation to make the film.
“I really wanted to document those last moments, even for them, when they can show their kids 15 years from now, ‘This is how we used to live, this is what we used to do’, and keep up the pride that goes along with that,” she shared.
Brault was able to witness the speed of some of these changes firsthand, as she saw how technology quickly made its way to the remotest of places.
“In 2005, very few people had cell phones and only in cities, it wouldn’t get in the village or in nomad camps, you couldn’t get reception,” she recalled. “In four years, you can see how the modernization of China has really taken its toll; there were more houses, more modern houses, more cellphones, so they’re immersed in it.”
While revolts, as seen in the Middle East earlier this year, are becoming more and more feasible, Brault explained that it is not necessarily an option for Tibetans who want to fight back actively.
“They do revolt and speak out—however, it’s at the risk of their own lives. People go to prison; people get beaten up for just stating what they believe in. So the more educated people who get a chance to do that often pay a very high price,” she said.
The film is doing its part to help the situation by making audiences aware of the situation, drawing much needed attention to the nomads’ struggle by relating the message “that there are people fighting, resisting, trying to maintain their lifestyle and that we should sympathize with that cause,” Brault shared.
She also hopes to dispel some of the common misconceptions about Tibetans. One of the biggest ones is the generalization of the Tibetans’ Zen way of being.
“We see Tibetans as people that are very Zen, and relaxed, and calm, and always in meditation, that’s a stereotype of the Tibetan monk, for example. And of course, in monasteries that’s what it is,” she explained. “But everyday Tibetan life is very lively, very active, people are loud, screaming, running around. It’s nothing like what we can imagine; it’s a lot more active.”
The nomads’ hardships do not necessarily make the evening news, but information about their plight is available—if the curious are interested in finding it.
“And that’s what I’m hoping that people might do, read in between lines, ask questions when we can maybe try to clarify stuff,” said Brault. “Go on and do a little bit of research on their own to be able to appreciate or evaluate the situation in a better state of mind.” 

Tibet: Land of the Brave is showing at Cinema du Parc Sept. 9-11.

For more info and links, visit the film’s website at www.tibetterredesbraves.net.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment