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Cinema '59

September 2, 2008

Jamyang Norbu
Shadows of Tibet
August 31, 2008

With the end of the Beijing Olympics, exile-Tibetans will no doubt be
taking a well-deserved rest from protests and demonstrations though
Nepal (Bravo!) seem determined to go on a while longer. It is really
important to take a break but make it a short one because 2009 is
coming and it will be the 50th anniversary of the Lhasa Uprising and
our exile from home. We absolutely need to recover our strength and
clear our heads to plan for the next phase of the rangzen revolution.

This brief R & R should ideally provide us not only rest but also
inspiration and ideas. I cannot think of a more effective way of
accomplishing this dual purpose than by sitting back with a tall
drink and watching movies — especially (in this instance) movies of
freedom struggles. I put together a list of such films for a project
that I hope to get underway sometime in the near future. Anyway, here
is the list and an outline of the project, Cinema '59, for the
reader's pleasure and edification — to put it in an old fashioned way.

Cinema '59

The cinema is for us the most important of all the arts. -- V. I. Lenin

Though the whole Communist experiment has deservedly failed, the
Russian Revolution's use of the cinema to spread its political
message and galvanize its mainly rural population, is certainly
something that the Tibetan freedom movement could emulate to spread
and keep the Rangzen message alive among Tibetans and friends.

The Russian Revolution of 1917, besides fulfilling its primary
political goal, also sparked off a revolution in the way the function
of entertainment and art, especially cinema, changed to become a
powerful tool of social and political transformation. Lenin
appreciated cinema's value and despite civil war and scarce
resources, the Soviet revolutionary cinema was established, reaching
even the remotest provinces by train. Such "Agit-trains" spread the
Soviet message and led to the dynamic Soviet cinema of the 1920s
which "shook the world" with a new heroic style – pioneered by such
directors as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Kuleshov and Dovzhenko, and
documentary makers, notably Vertov and Shub.

Taking into account the fact that Tibetan society is not extensively
literate, and that even among educated people there is not much of a
reading habit, the use of cinema to promote the rangzen struggle
could prove to be an effective alternative. I implemented the idea it
in a small way at the Amnye Machen Institute where we screened The
Battle of Algiers , Avad and other films for young Tibetans of Dharamshala.

* Film Library on Tibet

This aspect of the project could just be started off by providing a
list of feature and documentary films on Tibet. A basic catalogue was
put together by Sonam Dhargay la in the 80s for the Office of Tibet
in New York, and the Amnye Machen Institute created a more extensive
digital catalogue. The AMI database provides detailed
cross-references, selection of films by key-words, and also a useful
synopsis of the film's content. A more ambitious follow-up
undertaking would be the creation of an actual film library (in New
York City for instance) of documentary, shorts and features on Tibet
that Tibetans and friends could borrow for educational, fund-raising,
promotional and awareness-raising purposes

* Films by Tibetan Directors

Cinema '59 could also provide a forum for aspiring Tibetan filmmakers
who, at the moment, receive little acknowledgement, encouragement or
support elsewhere. Old and new Tibetan films could be discussed on
this website. Interviews with the directors, visual material, and
documentation could also be carried. The filmmakers could also file
accounts of their current projects with accompanying visuals. I have
nearly finished an essay on Cinema in Tibet which could provide the
historical and sociological background for the undertaking. Readers
can expect this essay to be posted in a few weeks.

* World Cinema of Freedom Struggles
Though at the moment there may not be enough Tibetan made films for a
sustainable program of social and political education in our society
we could use films of freedom struggles and revolutions from other
countries to educate and inspire our people. Therefore one aspect of
Cinema '59 should be the selection and screening of such films to
Tibetan communities and groups everywhere. An extensive list of such
films, videos or DVD's (with accompanying information) could be
considered. In the case of Tibetans in isolated settlements in India
and Nepal a touring "Agit" van or something like that could perhaps
be attempted later by organizations as the TYC and others.

To make such films accessible to older Tibetans and Tibetans inside
Tibet, such films as Gandhi could be dubbed in Tibetan and DVDs sent
to Tibet. I think TIPA attempted to dub The Battle of Algiers into Tibetan.

A Personal List
This list contains a variety of films, not all political or
specifically about freedom struggles but most of which have somehow
inspired or helped me hang in there. The artistic quality of the
films vary considerably.

John Adams,  2008, USA, Tom Hooper.
Americans had their rangzen v. middle-path wrangle in 1775 and the
first few parts of this HBO 7-part miniseries, depicts the great
national debate at the 2nd Continental Congress at Philadelphia
between Adams, Jefferson and those calling for independence and
others seeking reconciliation with Britain. I was completely
mesmerized by the clash of the two opposing parties but also by the
behind-the-scenes negotiations and maneuvers which finally persuaded
the delegates to sign the declaration of independence. Some of the
speeches and statements at the Congress seem made-to-order for our
critical situation right now. History is not romanticized in this
biography of Americas least understood and most underestimated
founding fathers, John Adams, but is all the more believable and
emotionally engaging because of it. This is a 502-minute series that
has lots more than the segment I have discussed. Excellent acting all
around and high production values. An absolute must see film for Tibetans.

The White Rose (Die Weisse Rose), 1982, West Germany, Michael Verhoeven.
Academy Award winning film based on the true story of a group of
students in Munich in 1942 who put their lives in danger by
distributing leaflets telling the truth of what was going on in the
concentration camps. Absolutely a must see for all young activists
fighting for truth and freedom. Check out the White Rose web sites
and memorials.

Battle of Algiers (La Battaglia di Algeri), 1956, Algeria/Italy,
Gillo Pontecorvo.
The quintessential film study of a nationalist insurgency against
colonial oppression.

The Lion of the Desert (Omar Mukhtar), 1981, Egypt, Moustapha Akkad.
True account of Bedouin resistance against Mussolini's occupation
force in Libya. Inspiring in parts. A favourite with some older
Tibetans in Dharamshala.

Battleship Potemkin, 1925, USSR, Sergei M. Eisenstein.
The classic film of the beginning of the Russian revolution.

Alexander Nevsky, 1938, USSR, Sergei M. Eisenstein.
The epic film of the defence of the Russia against invading Teutonic knights.

Gandhi, 1982, UK, Richard Attenborough. Though the film takes a fair
bit of license with history is hugely moving and absolutely
inspiring. The thing I liked about the film was that it managed to
show that Gandhi was not just a spiritual person but a man of action as well.

Hot Winds (Garam Hawa ), 1973, India, M.S. Satyu.
The story of a Muslim family during partition. Very poignant and
insightful. Balraj Sahni is terrific.

Les Miserables, 1995, France, Claude Lelouch.
This version of Hugo's classic tale is set during WWII.  Scenes of
resistance action and D-day make this an exciting film.

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, USA, David Lean.
See movie for the story of the Arab revolt against the Turks.
Cautionary tale about how your revolution could get sold out by those
(Lawrence et al) professing to be your friend. Amazing desert scenes.
Also offers a suggestion or two on what to do about unwanted trains
and railway lines.

La Marseillaise, 1938, France, Jean Renoir,
Renoir's epic filming of the French Revolution, beginning with the
events of 1789 & leading up to the storming of the Bastille & the
birth of the French republic.

The Gathering Storm, 2003, USA, Richard Loncrane.
It is the mid 1930's and everyone in power is sucking up to Hitler's
Germany (as they are now to Communist China). A lonely, sidelined but
defiant Winston Churchill attempts to warn the world of this
impending threat. But who will listen? A beautifully shot HBO film.
Vanessa Redgrave as Churchill's wife is fantastic.

The Sorrow and the Pity (Le Chagrin et la Pitié), 1969, West Germany,
Switzerland, Marcel Ophuls.
A classic documentary depicting the life of a French town during the
Nazi occupation. The story of cowardice and collaboration but also of
heroism and the resistance. Powerful and insightful. Goldstein in his
history of Tibet insists on pointing out that Chinese soldiers were
well behaved in Tibet. Well, Ophuls shows you how Nazi soldiers would
give their bus seats to old ladies and help farmers in order to
deceive the French population

The Train, 1963, US, John Frankenheimer.
The resistance saves French art treasures from the Nazis. Riveting
action film. Nazi's officer's (Goering most of all) at least valued
French art enough to want to steal it. The Chinese just destroyed everything.

Braveheart, 1995, US, Mel Gibson. Not a bad film in spite of Mel's
posturing. The film also played a surprisingly influential part in
the political changes that swept Scotland in the nineties, mobilising
public opinion to aid the return of a Scottish Parliament after a gap
of 300 years. The real William Wallace didn't paint his face blue and
he was a physically bigger and a more imposing man than Mel.

Rob Roy, 1994, USA, Michael Bay.
Another film of how the Brits misbehaved in Scotland and how a few
brave Scotsmen stood up to them. Although the story here is fictional
it is nonetheless as stirring and exciting as Braveheart. I actually
preferred Rob Roy. The film also never soft-pedals the historical and
political realities.

The Killing Fields, 1984, Britain, Roland Joffe.
We've all seen this epic movie of the Cambodian genocide, but we
should watch it again (and again) if only to remind ourselves that
all Pol Pot was doing was following the teachings of Chairman Mao.
Haing S. Ngor, the Cambodian doctor who won an Oscar playing Dith
Pran in the film wrote in his autobiography: "Except for their dark
skins, everything about the Khmer Rouge was alien, from China. They
had borrowed their ideology from Mao… like the concept of the Great
Leap Forward. Sending the intellectuals to the countryside to learn
from the peasants was an idea of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Their AK-47s and their olive green caps and their trucks were
Chinese. Even the music they played from the loudspeakers was
Chinese, with Khmer words.

Director Roland Joffé, when discussing Dith Pran's escape from the
Khmer Rouge death camp, made this sage observation: "and yet there's
always a chance of life… and the strength that Haing had, that Dith
had, was that they took risks. They weren't victims."  Its something
all Tibetans should ponder. Being a victim is not just a question of
circumstance or history, but also of choice.

A Generation, (Part I of a War Trilogy) 1954, Poland, Andrzej Wajda
(War Trilogy)
A film about the Polish underground and the Warsaw resistance;
specifically the story of a youth resistance group. You could call it
a propaganda film of sorts, but it is also exciting and powerful.

Kanal, (Part II of a War Trilogy)  1956, Poland, Andrzej Wajda (War Trilogy).
A group of partisans try to escape from the Nazis through the sewers
of Warsaw. Very intense and dark but poetically uplifting at times.

Ashes and Diamonds, 1958, Poland, Andrzej Wajda, (Part III of a War Trilogy).
The final part of the trilogy features Cybulski (the Polish James
Dean) as a fighter in the first days of peace waiting to assassinate
a Communist official. Least satisfying of the trilogy.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1943, USA, Sam Woods.
Hemingway's story of an American volunteer fighting with partisans in
the Spanish Civil War. Saw a re-run  in Darjeeling as a schoolboy and
was hugely impressed. The partisans seemed just like the Khampas at
Mustang. Fell in love with Ingrid Bergman as María.

Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957, USA, David Lean.
A British colonel, taken prisoner by the Japanese, builds a bridge
for them and in the end even gives up his life trying to save it, so
obsessed by pride in his work that he has forgotten it will serve the
wrong cause. Sounds familiar… Hmm.

Operation Daybreak, 1957, USA, Lewis Gilbert.
Based on the true story of the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard
Heydrich by Czech agents parachuted into occupied Czechoslovakia by
British Intelligence. Standard WWII action film but scenes of Nazi
reprisals are disturbing, and the last quarter of the film is
poignant and inspiring. A big hit at TCV in eighty(?).

Geronimo: An American Legend, 1993, USA, Walter Hill.
The authentic bloody chronicle of the last Apache leader as recorded
in the memoirs of one of the cavalrymen who hunted him down. Lots of
violence but it is the injustice of the white man that is upsetting
and makes you mad. It also has a real Indian actor, Wes Studi, in the
lead. He's convincing. It's in bad form to quote from your own
writing, but I have to repeat this passage from my Rangzen Charter:
"Of all the millions of native Americans who suffered and died under
the injustice and violence of the white man, only the names of great
war chiefs like Geronimo, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull are still
remembered with respect by Americans. Those native leaders who tried
to live peacefully under the white man and went to Washington DC to
submit to the 'Great White Father' are forgotten."

The Long Walk Home, 1989, USA, Richard Pearce.
A small but compelling film about the Montgomery bus boycott. The
best feature film I have seen on the civil rights movement. Whoopi
Goldberg is fantastic. A more effective and convincing film than
better known works on the subject as Mississippi Burning.

Malcolm X, 1992, USA, Spike Lee.
Epic biography of America's fiery black revolutionary, from his early
days as a zoot-suited hustler known as "Detroit Red" to his
pilgrimage to Mecca, as a Black Muslim — all with an broad sweep and
vitality that illuminates personal details as well as political ideology.

Citizen King, 2004, USA, Orlando Bagwell/Noland Walker.
There are quite a few documentaries on the Civil Rights leader, but I
liked this one as it was very balanced, showing Dr. King's flaws
(womanizing, poor health habits, questionable associations, etc.,)
but emphasizing the good that Dr. King accomplished without
compromising on his Gandhian philosophy. Another  documentary worth
watching is King (1978) directed by Paul Winfield.

American Roots Music (4 part documentary), 2001, US, Jim Brown.
200 years of music in America (some going back farther than that) is
presented in this wonderful four-hour story that ties in the many
peoples and sounds and styles. A continuous musical tapestry with
excerpts (and also full-length performances in bonus disc) of live
performances of all types: Folk, Country, Blues, Gospel, Western
Swing, Bluegrass, Cajun, Zydeco, Tejano and Native American music
interviews with performers. This documentary gives you a true feel
for the importance of music in the struggle of ordinary people
(especially blacks) for survival and freedom.  Aspiring Tibetan
songwriters and singers should check out the music of the old native
American protest singer, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, and note how he
gets his political message into a wonderfully traditional native
singing style.

The Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai), 1954, Japan, Akira Kurosawa.
The ultimate lesson on why you must stand up to injustice and help
others do so; also expect no thanks or rewards, just do it for the
ing. I watch this film at least once a year to recharge my simshug batteries.

Carve Her Name With Pride, 1958, UK, Lewis Gilbert.
Inspirational story of the allied spy Violette Szabo in Nazi occupied
France. Standard story of wartime heroism and martyrdom, yet
strangely moving because you know it really happened.  Violette was
captured by the Gestapo, tortured and executed. She received the
George Cross posthumously. The first woman to receive this highest
British award.

Charlotte Grey, 2002, UK, Gillian Armstrong,
The fictional story of a British agent in Nazi occupied France who
works with the French resistance to rescue her lover, a missing RAF
pilot. God, what crap. Especially when you know that real women like
Violette Szabo had given up their lives to fight the Nazis. The
incredible thing is that so many other young women as Lilian Rolfe,
Odette Hallowes, Yvonne Coremeau, and the incredibly beautiful Indian
Sufi princess, Noor Inayat Khan (codename Madeline) had done the same
and had parachuted into occupied France as agents. Lillian and Noor
were captured by the Germans, and after being tortured and, God knows
what else, executed at Ravensbruck concentration camp. At the Library
of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamshala I found an old
children's book, Twenty Jataka Tales, about the former lives of the
Buddha. It had been written by Noor Inayat Khan in 1939.

Casablanca, 1942, USA, Michael Curtiz.
The ultimate WWII romance movie. Inspiring in parts, especially the
defiant singing of the French national anthem in Ricks café. Yvonne a
pretty French coquette, drinking with the Germans, and flirting with
the chief Gestapo officer, has a turn of conscience and, with tears
streaming down her cheeks, joins in the singing of La Marseillaise.

Elliot Sperling of Indiana University argues that visitors to present
day Tibet (including experts) encountering a population going about
its daily business and not expressing open defiance of Chinese
occupation, and then concluding that Tibetans are satisfied with the
status quo, invariably fail to take into account what he terms the
"Yvonne factor" of dormant or suppressed Tibetan nationalism, which
could be galvanized by a crisis or some unusual event, as it happened in 1979.

Spartacus, 1960, US, Stanley Kubrick.
A must see. George Orwell, in one of his newspaper columns, reflected
on the fact that though the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia,
Egypt, Greece and Rome had rested entirely on slavery, in the same
way as modern society depends on electricity or fossil fuels, we
cannot recall the name of a single slave, except perhaps for
Spartacus. And we remember him "because he did not obey the
injunction to 'resist not evil', but raised violent rebellion."

Crazy Horse, 1996, John Irvin (TV bio) Gripping story of the great
Indian war chief leading the Cheyenne and Sioux nations against
Custer and the US army. A very satisfying film. Especially when
Custer gets his. Listen to Johnny Cash's wonderfully sarcastic song
Custer. "Now I will tell you buster that I ain't a fan of Custer"… etc.

Mandela (documentary), 1995, US, Jo Mennel.
A full and inspiring account of Mandela's life and struggle. A must
see. Also check out the A&E documentary Biography — Nelson Mandela:
Journey to Freedom.

Cry, the Beloved Country, 1995, South Africa, Darrell Roodt.
Based on Alan Patten's classic novel this (the 1951 version) was the
first entertainment feature film set against the backdrop of
apartheid. Both films are well made and intensely moving.

Cry Freedom, 1987, UK, Richard Attenborough.
Story of the murder of black activist Steve Biko by South African
police, and the uncovering of the story by journalist Donald Woods.
Political cinema at its best.

Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (documentary), 2002,
US/South Africa, Lee Hirsch.
This stunning film tells the story of protest music in South Africa
-- but as it does so, it tells the story of the struggle against
apartheid itself. Through archival footage and interviews with
musicians, freedom fighters, and even members of the former
government police, Amandla! creates a vivid and powerful portrait of
how music was crucial not only to communicating a political message
beyond words, but also to the resistance itself -- how songs bonded
communities, buoyed resistance in the face of bullets and tear gas,
and sowed fear in the ruling elite. Also check out Rhythm of
Resistance - Black South African Music (1990). Heard good things
about it but haven't seen it yet.

Beyond Rangoon, 1995, US, John Boorman. An interesting film on the
conflict in Burma between the military junta and the dissident
democracy movement. Ignore the contrived story of the "troubled"
American doctor and watch the film for the freedom struggle of the
Burmese people. Convincingly chaotic scenes of demonstrations, riots
and military crackdowns. Aung San Suu Kyi makes a brief appearance.
The actress doesn't look very much like her, but hey, I'm not
complaining. Even a brief fantasy darshan of this supremely
courageous woman, is good enough for me.

Z, 1968, France/Algeria, Costa-Gavras.
Left wing political thriller, uncovering the corruption of the
military junta in Greece in the sixties. See it.

Missing, 1981, US, Costa-Gavras.
Based on true events during the Chilean coup of 1973, this
extraordinary film explores the disappearance of a young American
writer, and the search for him by his wife and father. The tension
and fear of living in a country under fascist military rule is
graphically depicted. Helps you understand how people in Lhasa must
live under the illusion of economic progress.

The Crossing, 2000, USA, Robert Harmon.
When it seemed to everyone that the American revolution was just
about finished, George Washington pulled off a desperate surprise
attack on the British army on Christmas day in 1776. An exciting
story well told and historically accurate.

Joan of Arc, 1948, UK, Victor Fleming.
The story of the 15th century French freedom fighter and visionary
(in the literal sense) has been made into quite a few feature films.
Fleming's version sticks fairly closely to the historical facts and
is worth watching for the young Ingrid Bergman as Joan and the
sumptuous production values. The 1957 Saint Joan directed by Otto
Preminger is also not bad.  The latest version, The Messenger: The
Story of Joan of Arc, 1999, directed by Luc Besson is not satisfying
though it has John Malkovich as the conniving Dauphin. Carl Theodor
Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928, is in black and white,
silent, and devoid of scenery, costumes and extras but is, even now,
regarded as a masterpiece of filmmaking and a great classic in film history.

The Battle of Neretva, 1969, Yugoslavia, Veljko Bulajic. Big budget
nationalist film (with imported Hollywood actors) of Yugoslav
partisans fighting against the Nazis, Italians and local Chetnik
collaborators. A young man from Lhasa told me it was screened to the
public in that city in the mid-seventies. He said he enjoyed the film
but not for the reasons the Chinese intended. The film was also
screened at TCV in Dharamshala. Kids loved it.

Enemy at the Gates, 2001, USA, Jean-Jacques Annaud.
In the winter of 1942, the German and Russian Armies meet in the
great Battle of Stalingrad, one of the most murderous and critical
engagements of the Second World War. Enter into this horror a young
Russian soldier, formerly a peasant boy with an extraordinary ability
as a sharpshooter. The Russian sniper soon gains fame after killing a
record number of German officers causing the Germans to bring in
their own master sniper: a war weathered Major who always
accomplishes his mission no matter what the cost. With the Battle of
Stalingrad raging around them, these two men must now fight each
other. And this is a real story. With even a true (and moving)
romantic sub-plot thrown in! Surely Academy Award material, you would
think? But Jean-Jacques Annaud manages to squander such genuinely
epic material as he did with Seven Years in Tibet. Bad casting, bad
script, and a complete inability to move beyond usual Hollywood
stereotypes. Still some amazing battle scenes, and great moments with
Bob Hoskins chewing the carpet (and drapes) as a brutal Khrushchev,
chief political commissar of beleaguered Stalingrad.

Exodus, 1960, USA, Otto Preminger. Reverential film version of Leon
Uris's blockbuster novel about the founding of modern Israel. Lots of
action and romance, though clunky in parts. Way too long at four
hours. After seeing the film Mort Sahl (the comedian) is supposed to
have said "Otto, let my people go."

The Pianist, 2002, France, Poland etc., Roman Polanski.
An adaptation of concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoirs about
his experiences in Nazi occupied Warsaw. Incredibly moving film. No
heroics. Sometimes all you can really do is just survive that sort of
mega-shit. If you weren't before, you will become a Chopin fan after the film.

The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta), 2004, USA, Argentina
etc., Walter Salles.
True life account of Che Guevera's travels and adventures as a young
man on the road in South America. The film captures the breathtaking
view and diversity of the continent. The social and political
problems of Latin America that drove Che to become a revolutionary
are presented in an intelligent and subtle way. Bit of left-wing
church bashing at the Amazonian leper colony scene where Catholic
nuns wear protective gloves to treat patients. The "enlightened"
Doctor Che dramatically refuses a pair. The problem for me was while
the simple nuns, no matter how medically ignorant they were, had
dedicated their lives to aiding the lepers, Che was just passing
through. So the revolutionary condescension grates a bit here. Che's
mythic swim across the Amazon has overtones of Mao's dip in the
Yangtze. Revolutionary hero battling raw nature kind of stuff. Che's
companion Alberto is a delight. All young Tibetans who have buzzed
around the Himalayas on their Enfields will love this film.

Hotel Rwanda, 2004, USA, Terry George.
As Rawanda descends into genocidal madness, hotel manager Paul
Rusesabagina sets out to save his family. But when he sees that the
world will not intervene in the massacre of minority Tutsis, he finds
the courage to open his hotel to over 1,200 refugees. Paul uses his
wits and words to keep the rabid Hutu militia from massacring the
refugees (and his own family). One man, does, it seems, make a big
difference if he takes the difficult decision to do so. Also a good
lesson not to expect the help of America, the UN or any other big
power if you don't have oil or big business opportunities in your country.

Pathfinder (Ofelas or Veiviseren), 1987, Norway, Nils Gaup,.
The first film in the Sami language. A young Sami boy in Lapland
(northern Norway, Sweden and Finland) 1,000 years ago, is captured by
black-clad savage invaders who want to wipe out the boy' peaceful
tribe. What can he do to save his people? Exciting action-packed film
shot against a frozen landscape of breathtaking beauty. Won the '87
Academy Award for best foreign film. A member of the Saami parliament
I met in Dharamshala told me that this film had had a tremendously
inspirational effect on young Sami's who were loosing touch with
their own history and culture.

Rabbit Proof Fence, 2002, Philip Noyce.
Incredibly harrowing and rage-provoking film about three little
aborigine girls who escape from a white orphanage to travel across
1,200 miles of Australian desert to get home. The whites who had
forcefully taken the girls from their mothers to train them to become
servants, see themselves as only helping these uncivilized people.
Hey, where have we heard that one before?

Deliverance (Sadgati), India, 1981, Satyajit Ray.
The ultimate cry of rage against injustice and oppression. In this
Ray masterpiece, Dukhi, a low caste chamar is to all purposes worked
to death in a single day by a heartless Brahmin. Based on a Munshi
Premchand short story, with outstanding performances by Om Puri and
the inimitable Smita Patel. I saw this Doordarshan production on
Indian TV in 1983. Seems unobtainable now on either DVD or video. If
anyone has a copy please let me know.

The Home and the World (Ghare Baire), India, 1984, Satyajit Ray.
Another masterpiece from India's greatest director, this film deals
with a sheltered Bengali woman who falls in love with her husband's
nationalist friend and becomes politically committed in the turmoil
of 1907-08 Bengal partition and the first Swadeshi movement. Based on
gurudev Rabindranath Tagore's novel. The film is a bit "talky" and
demanding, but the acting is uniformly excellent and the issues are
presented with great clarity. Don't expect Bhagat Singh style nationalism here.

The Chess Players (Shatranj ke Khilari), India, Satyajit Ray.
Once again a Ray adaptation of a Munshi Premchand short-story. A big
budget film (by Ray standards), this is the story of the British
annexation of Lucknow in 1856. Being Ray there are no nationalist
tirades (a la Manoj Kumar) against the British or easy condemnation
of the victim, the weak decadent native ruler, the nawab of Oudh.
Instead we get a nuanced, contemplative, though unsparing view of the
clash of two cultures – one effete and ineffectual and the other,
vigorous and malignant. Historical events are seen as the background
to the chess obsession of two Lucknow aristocrats, who ignore the
plight of their ruler, and leave their city to continue their games
undisturbed. A funny and ultimately profound film.

The Concert for Bangladesh, 1972, USA, Saul Swimmer.
The Concert for Bangladesh was the first benefit concert of its kind
in that it brought together an extraordinary assemblage of major
artists collaborating for a common humanitarian cause, setting the
precedent that music could be used to serve a higher purpose, in this
case to bring world attention to terrible suffering of the Bengali
refugees and the tragedy of Bangladesh. Tremendously moving
documentary with really inspiring music by George Harrison, Pandit
Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Bob Dylan, Ringo Star, Billy
Preston, Leon Russell and others. Eric Clapton is also there but
looks pretty wasted. He had problems of his own then. Unlike benefit
concerts these days the artists and bands just don't perform their
number and leave.  Most of the time they seem to hang around the
stage and back up the other acts in a friendly informal way.

Army of Shadows (L' Armee Des Ombres), 1969, France, Jean Pierre Melville.
Great news for all freedom cinema fans. This ultimate feature film of
the French resistance has been restored and re-released. Adapted from
Joseph Kessel's wartime novel the film is an exciting but utterly
uncompromising account of a group of resistance fighters in Occupied
France during World War II. Avoiding acts of spectacular heroism,
Melville presents a twilight world, where the clandestine
freedom-fighters seek to avoid capture and are forced to eliminate
informants from their own ranks.

In many ways Army of The Shadows resembles one of the director's
better known gangster pictures like Le Samourai and Bob le Flambeur:
hence the chilly colours, the movingly restrained performances, the
blurring of moral boundaries (nowhere more evident than when a
teenage traitor is strangled to death with a towel), and the
iconographic details of hats, guns and cars. I saw the film on a
Russian issue DVD which wasn't really satisfying. Last year it
finally came to the USA and played at the Film Forum on Houston
Street. Its out on DVD now.

Michael Collins, 1996, USA, Neil Jordan.
Exciting historical drama about the life of the heroic leader of the
Irish nationalist struggle. Beautiful cinematography by Chris Menges
(who also shot the Killing Fields).

The Wind that Shakes the Barley, 2006, Ireland, Ken Loach. Ireland 1920.
This film, also about the "Troubles" is an interesting counterpoint
to Michael Collins. This is the version of Irish history that regards
Collins compromise with Britain as a betrayal of the "revolution".
When I was in Dharamshala last year I gave a talk about "Films of
Freedom Struggles" and Tenzin Tsundue la screened this film with the
title translated as drushing truknyen ghi lhakpa.

When possible watch the movie with friends and have a discussion afterwards.

Feedback from readers is welcome. Let me know of films that I might
have overlooked.

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