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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Meet The King of Tibet

June 2, 2010

By Kendall Hunter | Tuesday, June 1, 2010 5:30 AM ET

Namgyal Wangchuk was coronated as a Tibetan King by the 14th Dalai Lama when he was only 12 years old. Now 17 and living in exile, he tells his remarkable story in the film "My Country Is Tibet."

tibking_namgyal_film_himself.jpgThe same night His Holiness the Dalai Lama arrived at Radio City Music Hall last month, another Tibetan of extraordinary lineage —17-year-old Namgyal Wangchuck (or Trichen) was being introduced to an audience of only a few. They were gathered for the world premiere of his film, My Country is Tibet, and to meet in person the refugee with royal blood.

The event, held at a private home in Manhattan, was coordinated by Holly Carter (bottom right), the film's producer and the founder of BYkids, an organization that uses the voices of youth to bring attention to global issues through documentary filmmaking. In partnership with UNICEF, and in collaboration with some of the world's best filmmakers, journalists and diplomats, BYkids shines the light on otherwise unassuming characters around the world. Carter, who is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist, said in an email: "Because his story is so little known even to Tibetans, it is a treat to share it with the world."

Guest-hosted by ABC news anchor Dan Harris, the intimate affair was also a benefit screening for BYkids with a live auction. "This film does what so much great journalism does: it takes you somewhere and teaches you something," Harris commented. He continued:

"It would have been easy, given the seriousness of his situation, for Trichen to make an overly-dramatic film. Instead he and his mentor use humor and basic humanity to bring you into the life of a teenager who happens to be a king. And in the process, they shed much-needed light on an oft-forgotten geopolitical issue."

Under the mentorship of filmmaker Dirk Simon, Trichen introduces viewers of My Country Is Tibet to his life in exile. We watch his family and friends and listen to his narrative — one of an ambiguous existence where he is determined to one day perform the duties of king yet prepares with neither the authority nor lavish lifestyle known to royalty.

tibking_namgyal_cam_dirk_instructions.jpgTrichen has never set foot in his homeland of Tibet. His forefathers, the three great Dharma Kings, formed the Tibetan nation, its language and one of the most popular religions of modern times, Tibetan Buddhism. This was centuries before Tibetans had found their first Dalai Lama.

His father was incarcerated by the Chinese authorities for 20 years after they invaded Tibet and destroyed their residence, the Lhagyari Palace. After his release, Trichen’s father fled to India under the suggestion of the Dalai Lama, where he was chosen as a member of parliament for three consecutive years.

A year after his father’s death, Trichen was coronated by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He was all of 12 years of age. His childhood effectively ended as he felt the responsibility to protect the history and culture of his people that had only been conveyed to him in books and through his family. "After I got this name [of a great Tibetan king] I realized myself that I’ve got to do better, even though we are in exile, even though we are refugees and all. I’ve still got the name and the name is still big, even though I don’t have anything to show."

Trichen explains to Tonic: "My father’s life serves as a guide for me to follow — his attitude and will to survive, his exuberance, his loyalty towards H.H. the Dalai Lama and his country, his determination to protect his people, follow truth and to be a good person. His life teaches me never give up and follow my dreams even if somebody tries to shatter it."

In the film, we witness the discipline and surprising modesty of the young king. He awakens early each morning for a run and to say his prayers but still makes time to relax with a movie or a game of Wii in the afternoon. He scrubs his own clothes and sweeps the floor of his family home. A student committed to his studies, Trichen focuses on his upcoming exams yet underlying it all, he is preparing for something far greater. After graduation, he will discuss with His Holiness his next step. Well aware of the changing role of the monarchy, he informs Tonic: "It is my responsibility to serve my fellow Tibetans and the world at large. I dream of serving my people any way I can, whether I get more than just the title of King in this new Democracy [in the government in exile] or whether I can return."hcartertrichendsimon_05201011913.jpg

Dirk Simon (at right) first met Trichen at the time of his coronation. The filmmaker had been looking for a Tibetan story since graduating from the Academy where he studied in East Germany. A few years before, he had proposed the idea of doing a film about the unbroken lineage of the Great Religious Kings of Tibet until Trichen’s father. Simon explains to Tonic, "I presented him with a concept that used his biography as a metaphor of the fate of Tibet and its people. He really liked it." Unfortunately he passed before they had the opportunity to work on the film. Carter and Simon then joined forces and it was time for the next generation to tell their story.

On the BYkids website, Simon describes the young king as “carrying the vision of two worlds: the one-thousand-year-old heritage of Tibet’s Dharma Kings and the current struggle of a people striving to survive under repression, abuse and ethnic genocide. With his devotion to the principles of Tibetan Buddhism, his kindness and modesty, he touches the heart of everyone who meets him.

Trichen explains to Tonic: "In exile, I live a very simple life like other Tibetan refugees. I felt very lucky and surprised to get this wonderful opportunity to film my life." Of Simon he says: "He is a wonderful person and very good filmmaker. We both consider each other as brothers. And I learned so many things from him, especially how to make a film. He is the one who guided me from every side to make this film."

Simon is also the director of When The Dragon Swallowed The Sun. The documentary, which took seven years to make, was released in February of this year. It explores the current social, political and spiritual situation in Tibet and also features Trichen and his story.

There will be further screenings of My Country Is Tibet at the UN Association (June 7) and The Core Club (June 9) in New York as well as at schools in the city. It will then be represented at the AFl/SilverDocs Film Festival in Washington D.C. starting June 21.

Anticipating the screenings at American schools, I asked Trichen what he would most want North American teens his age to learn from a 17-year-old boy who happens also to be a king and he replied, “Please consider yourself lucky to have all the facilities and freedom in your country. Remember to use these for the best of your ability to help others as much as you can. Learn to love who loves you and forgive those who harm you.”

It was this rather larger than life character disguised as a boy who managed to completely entrance an audience of a few in Manhattan.

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