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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

The Lost World of Tibet

June 13, 2008

DVD Times
June 10, 2008

A surprise hit for co-producers the BBC and the BFI, their Lost World
of... documentary series here reaches its third instalment, albeit
with a slight twist. Previous entries had a firm filmmaking focus:
the first was dedicated to Edwardian duo Mitchell & Kenyon, whilst
the second gave its time to colour pioneer Claude Friese-Greene,
specifically his 1920s travelogue series The Open Road. Film plays an
integral part once more, yet whilst these earlier productions have
prompted a number of spin-off DVDs (also released by the BFI), that
is unlikely to be the case here. The visual content is predominantly
amateur footage shot by British, Chinese and Tibetans during the
thirties, forties and fifties, but it does not provide the subject
matter. Rather, in a very timely fashion given the Dalai Lama's
recent trip to the UK, the upcoming Beijing Olympics and its
surrounding controversies, not to mention a focus on China across
many media, it is a Tibet as whole -- its culture, its history and
its people -- which takes centre stage.

Nevertheless, the format remains much the same. Although a single
documentary as opposed to the three-part structure of previous Lost
Worlds, we once again have the ubiquitous Dan Cruickshank as
on-screen host and narrator, plus the personal testimonies of those
present in the amateur footage as they avidly -- and occasionally
tearfully -- watch on a portable DVD player. Amongst the participants
are the 14th Dalai Lama himself, his sister-in-law and various
members of the government in exile (all shot in India as discussion
of pre-Chinese rule Tibet is banned in the country), although we only
learn many of their identities during the end credits roll. Indeed,
the Dalai Lama is the key figure here and the central narrative is
very much his. As with Martin Scorsese's Kundun, we follow him from
his "discovery" as the 14th incarnation through to his eventual exile
in the fifties via the key events in his life: his education, the
political turmoil, his meeting with Chairman Mao etc. Yet digressions
are surprisingly common, especially in this 'Director's Cut' edition
(the initial television screening ran to only an hour). Thus we also
have a wide-ranging discussion of Tibet taking in its geography, its
culture and society, the everyday and, of course, its religion.
Moreover, the present day footage similarly allows ample coverage of
modern day living as Tibet effectively lives on, for some, outside of
its own country.

What's particular pleasing is the fact that the sheer abundance of
amateur material (all of which has come from the BFI's National Film
Archive) means The Lost World of Tibet never has to pull its punches
or cut certain subjects short; it's all there, from the expected
footage of the Dalai Lama's childhood to odder instances, such as his
bodyguards wrestling half-naked or a performance of the distinctive
"sky dancing." The anecdotage is therefore likewise all encompassing,
moustaches getting as lip service alongside the more important
political issues. Furthermore -- and this is no doubt the
documentary's main selling point -- the vast majority of this footage
comes in glorious colour; indeed, it is 82 minutes in before black
and white film is necessarily employed. Otherwise we are treated to a
dazzling array of reds and gold as this land "frozen in time" and
unvisited by modernisms (excepting the cameras themselves or so it
seems) comes beautifully to life. It's worth noting that the makers
of The Lost World of Tibet have opted to crop the footage to a
widescreen TV-friendly ratio, though interestingly this never really
has a detrimental effect. Those behind the lens were of the
point-and-shoot variety -- the material is surprisingly similar in
nature to the actualities of Mitchell & Kenyon, in fact -- and hardly
concerned with artful composition. Compare it to the newer footage of
Cruickshank in which he's always carefully framed against India's
architecture or its landscape and this becomes immediately apparent.

(Also a quick note on Cruickshank himself: his presence here is less
markedly overt than in the earlier Lost World instalments. There's
none of the mock enthusiasm as he supposedly views old film for the
first time or intermingles with those viewing the portable DVD
player, both of which blighted the Mitchell & Kenyon and
Friese-Greene docs. That said, for those who do find him at times
trying, the disc also includes the international version which does
away with him entirely, both onscreen and off.)

The Lost World of Tibet is, however, very much aimed at beginners. In
contrast with, say, Graham Coleman's 1970s doc Tibet: A Buddhist
Trilogy, which was so solidly embedded in the culture of its subject
that it, at times, risked alienating the audience, here the makers
assume only the basest of prior knowledge. It's an aspect that, for
some viewers, will allow this to serve as perfect introduction. For
others, however, there's always the wonderful footage to marvel at
and the resulting insights to be had. Either way, it is very hard to
deny the very obvious qualities on show.

The Disc: Easily the match of its television presentation, there's
little, if anything at all, to quibble about The Lost World of
Tibet's DVD rendering. The 1.78:1 original aspect ratio is presented
anamorphically and the Dolby Digital DD2.0 soundtrack is free of any
distortion or other complaints. Similarly, the archive material is
presented as well as could be expected allowing a full appreciation
of, specifically, its wonderful colours. Backing this up we also have
optional hard of hearing English subtitles (though these are not
present on the 'international version') and approximately 29-minutes
worth of additional footage. Split into two sections - one made up of
the amateur material, the other of present day footage – the two
mirror each other surprisingly well. Both do without voice-over (the
silent footage is aided by snippets of the main documentary's score)
and opt for an observational approach as they detail, however
briefly, Tibetan flora, the lives of modern day monks and much more.
As already noted, the 'international version' of The Lost World of
Tibet is also present doing away with Cruickshank's onscreen presence
and switching the narrator (although the narration remains the same).
As a result, its runtime is considerably shorter at 60-minutes.

Certificate: E
Film Released:  2007
Film Country:  United Kingdom
Director: Emma Hindley
Starring: Dan Cruickshank
Similar Releases:
The Lost World of Mitchell & Kenyon
The Lost World of Friese-Greene
Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy
Genre(s): Documentary
Region: 2
DVD Released: Out Now
DVD Country: United Kingdom
Running Time: 89 minutes
Screen Format: 1.78:1 Anamorphic PAL
Discs / Sides / Layers: 1/1/ Dual
Soundtracks: English DD2.0
Subtitles: English HOH
DVD Distributor: BFI
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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