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'I Won't Regret to Die'

August 17, 2008

Tibetans Speak Out on Film at Their Own Risk
ABC News
August 15, 2008

As the Olympic flame flickers atop the Bird's Nest, foreigners with
human rights torches of their own have chosen this moment to stage
brazen protests.

Pro-Tibetan activists have entered China on tourist visas, knowing
that the worst punishment they'll face is deportation. For Tibetans
living in China, any protest calling for a free Tibet means almost
certain jail time.

"China is a successful country and it's growing, but the people of
China, they deserve the truth," said Pemba Yoko, a protester with
Students for a Free Tibet.

And that truth, according to the group and many Tibetans who are
living in exile, is that China is suppressing Tibetans' human rights
and systematically extinguishing Tibetan culture, language and religion.

Olympics Serve as Platform for Protests

Tibet has been a mecca for tourists, with attractions like the
dazzling Potala Palace in Lhasa, the capital. This year, images of
Tibet in the media have been dominated by coverage of violent clashes
between Tibetans and Chinese police.

That, in turn, has led to protestors interrupting the Olympic torch
relays in several cities around the world, with Tibetans and
supporters calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, the region's
spiritual leader, to his homeland, where Chinese officials have
banned him for decades.

But some Chinese citizens believe the protesters have it all wrong.

"I don't think they should do this," one woman said. "Tibet is
already very free."

But few have heard from the people still living in Tibet.

'I Won't Regret to Die'

One of them is Dhondup Wangchen. The 34-year-old Tibetan amateur
filmmaker has decided to show the outside world what he says nobody
knows about his country. He shows rare footage of Tibetans speaking
out about life under Chinese rule in a documentary filmed entirely by
native Tibetans.

"We started gathering facts about the real opinions of the Tibetans
inside Tibet, what they think about the 2008 Games," he said.
"Whether they support His Holiness the Dalai Lama."

One monk says in the film that if the 2008 Olympic Games take place,
they should stand for freedom and peace, but because he has neither,
he says, he'd rather not have the Games there.

Even at the start of this project, Wangchen knew he was putting his
life on the line.

"I won't regret to die on this soil since the reason why I died would
be for the sake of all the Tibetans," he said.

But, as a precaution, he smuggled his wife and children out of the
country and then smuggled himself back in with a camera. He'd never
filmed anything before.

"I'm not satisfied with the filming," he said. "I've never touched a
camera before and have no experience handling a camera."

With the help of three volunteers, Wangchen has traversed thousands
of miles, often by motorbike, across cold and sometimes barren
terrain. The team collected about 40 hours of interviews with
Tibetans who spoke about life under Chinese rule.

"The main difficulties we faced in making this film were asking
people to show their faces on camera, not being able to guarantee
their safety, and to gain their consent," he said.

The Chinese government says that exiles don't really speak for
Tibetans, but those featured in Wangchen's film say otherwise.

"Life is very hard, people don't see it," one interview subject said.
"Lots of tourists come to Lhasa and the Chinese government
sweet-talks them, showing them what they want to show."

Hoping for the Dalai Lama's Return

Another monk cried, saying that it was his greatest wish and dream
for the Dalai Lama to return home, although it doesn't look like his
dream will ever be realized.

"Many said that if I succeeded in offering it to His Holiness," he
said, "then they won't regret even if they had to die. I also asked
clearly about filming or not filming their faces."

One man said, "If the interview was to be seen by the Dalai Lama then
I wouldn't' care even if I were killed. It would make me very happy
if I could leave the Dalai Lama this message in the name of all other

Simple Acts, Big Punishments

The film documents simple acts of defiance like people displaying
portraits of the Dalai Lama in their homes, an act strictly forbidden
under Chinese law.

"If the government finds them they confiscate them," one man said,
showing his portraits. "So we have to keep them secret. Otherwise
they'll be taken away"

Even declaring support for a free Tibet is punishable by up to 20
years in prison.

The project and ensuing journey have been difficult for Wangchen, as
he struggled to focus on his mission and simply stay awake.

"I need to smoke a lot." he said. "Not being able to sleep sometimes,
dire necessity to think a lot coupled with my loneliness compels me
to light a cigarette very often. I have to stop it because I need to
work for the Tibetan cause for few years and it's also a question of
my personal health."

Tapes for the film were smuggled out of China to Europe, where
friends completed the film and named it "Leaving Fear Behind." It was
released on the Internet days prior to the Olympic opening ceremonies
in Beijing. Chinese officials shut the site down there within hours.

Wangchen and one of his assistants, a Monk named Golog Jigme, have
since been arrested by the Chinese government. Their exact
whereabouts are unknown.

* * * * *
 From the official Web site for "Leaving Fear Behind."

Produced by Filming for Tibet

Leaving Fear Behind (in Tibetan, Jigdrel) is a heroic film shot by
Tibetans from inside Tibet, who longed to bring Tibetan voices to the
Beijing Olympic Games. With the global spotlight on China as it rises
to host the XXIX Olympics, Tibetans wish to tell the world of their
plight and their heartfelt grievances against Chinese rule. The
footage was smuggled out of Tibet under extraordinary circumstances.
The filmmakers were detained soon after sending their tapes out, and
remain in detention today.

In a remarkable coincidence, filming concluded in early March 2008 on
the eve of the eruption of unprecedented mass Tibetan protests across
the Tibetan plateau. Shot primarily in the eastern provinces of
Tibet, the film provides a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the
Tibetan people and their longstanding resentment of Chinese policies in Tibet.

The filmmakers traversed thousands of miles, asking ordinary Tibetans
what they really feel about the Dalai Lama, China, and the Olympic
Games. The filmmakers gave their subjects the option of covering
their faces, but almost all of the 108 people interviewed agreed to
have their faces shown on film, so strong was their desire to express
themselves to the world. Excerpts from twenty of the interviews,
including a self-recorded interview of the filmmaker himself, are
included in the 25 minute film.

The footage reveals with stark clarity that Tibetans are frustrated
and embittered by the deterioration and marginalization of Tibetan
language and culture; the destruction of the lifestyle of Tibetan
nomads through Chinese forced settlement policies; the lack of
religious freedom and the vilification of the Dalai Lama; and the
broken promises made by the Chinese government to improve conditions
in Tibet in the run up to the Olympic games. All are united in their
reverence for the Dalai Lama and long for him to return, and as some
even dream, to attend the Olympic Games.

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