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Documentary Film : Tibet in Song -- Never forget music in your heart

August 23, 2010
August 2010


Tibet in Song is both a celebration of
traditional Tibetan folk music and a harrowing
journey into the past fifty years of cultural
repression inside Chinese controlled Tibet.
Director and former Tibetan political prisoner,
Ngawang Choephel, weaves a story of beauty, pain,
brutality and resilience, introducing Tibet to
the world in a way never before seen on film.

The beauty of traditional Tibetan folk music is
showcased through a variety of working songs,
songs about family and the beauty of the land.
These rarely seen performances are deftly
juxtaposed against startling footage of the early
days of the Chinese invasion and a concise
explanation of the factors leading to the Dalai
Lama's flight into exile in 1959. Ngawang
Choephel sets the stage for a unique exploration
of the Chinese impact on Tibetans inside Tibet.

What follows is a heartbreaking tale of cultural
exploitation and resistance, which includes
Ngawangs' own eventual imprisonment for recording
the very songs at the center of the film. Tibet
in Song provides raw and uncensored look at Tibet
as it stands today, a country plagued by Chinese
brutality, yet willing to fight for the existence
of its unique cultural heritage.

Tibet in Song is directed by Ngawang Choephel,
and contains both original music composed by
Ngawang himself, and an array of traditional folk
songs sung by native Tibetans.

The FilmMaker

Ngawang Choephel is the director, writer, and
producer of Tibet in Song, his feature debut. He
is a graduate of the Tibetan Institute of
Performing Arts in Dharamsala, India and a
musician who released his first album of Tibetan
folk songs entitled "Melody in Exile," in 1993.

After starting his career as a music teacher in
India, he traveled to the US as a Fulbright
scholar at Middlebury College, VT where he
studied international music as well as
filmmaking. He went to Tibet in 1995 to record
and videotape Tibetan folk songs in order to make this film.

Chinese authorities arrested Ngawang in 1995,
falsely charging him with espionage. He was sent
to prison without a trial, where he served 7
years of an 18-year sentence. A highly publicized
international campaign that began with his
mother's solitary protests, and later involved
musicians like Annie Lennox, the Tibetan Freedom
Concert and US Senators James Jeffords and
Patrick Leahy from Vermont, finally secured his release in 2002.

Ngawang is recipient of Middlebury College's
Honorary Doctor of Arts degree, Peace Abbey's
Courage of Conscience Award, and Lobsang
Wangyal's Best Act in Exile award. He is also a Sundance Institute Fellow.


Special Jury Prize - Documentary
Sundance Film Festival 2009

Best Documentary
Calgary International Film Festival 2009

Emerging Director Award - Documentary Feature
Asian American International Film Festival 2009

Audience Award - Watch Docs
International Human Rights Film Festival 2009

Special Jury Mention - Watch Docs
International Human Rights Film Festival 2009

Cine Golden Eagle Award 2009


New York City, NY
Cinema Village
Sept 24 - Oct 1

Portland, OR
Northwest Film Center
Oct 6

Santa Fe, NM
The Screen
Oct 8 - Oct 15

Minneapolis, MN
Landmark Lagoon
Oct 15 - Oct 22

Boulder, CO
International Film Series UCB
Nov 4

San Francisco, CA
Landmark Lumiere
Nov 5 - Nov 12

Berkeley, CA
Landmark Shattuck Cinemas
Nov 5 - Nov 12

Boston, MA
Landmark Kendall Square
Nov12 - Nov 19

Washington, DC
Landmark E Street Cinema
Nov 19 - Nov 26

Seattle, WA
Landmark Varsity
Dec 3 - Dec 10

Tibet In Song
Capturing a nation's fading soundtrack meant seven years in a Chinese prison
Jennie Punter
The Globe and Mail
December 14, 2009

When exiled musician and scholar Ngawang Choephel
returned to his native Tibet in 1995 to record
and videotape indigenous folk songs, he was
arrested by Chinese authorities, charged with
spying and sent to prison, where he served seven years of an 18-year sentence.

This remarkable story alone would have provided
ample fodder for a compelling documentary. But
Choephel decided to keep his focus on a bigger
picture and the result is Tibet in Song, a rich,
fascinating if somewhat bumpy exploration of the
history, sound, meaning and current state of traditional Tibetan folk music.

The film, which won a special jury prize for
documentary at the Sundance festival earlier this
year and is this month's Doc Soup screening, does
use Choephel's personal journey as a navigation
tool. His exile (his family fled the Chinese
occupation of Tibet when he was two), musical
education in Dharamsala, India, and in the United
States, scholarly work in "song collecting" and
then imprisonment take viewers through key points
in the modern history and struggles of Tibetans.

While several of Choephel's videotapes were
seized at the time of his arrest, some were
smuggled out. These roughly photographed scenes
beautifully illustrate the integral role music
plays in the daily lives of Tibetans, who have
songs for just about every activity.

But the ancient tunes and rhythms are being
drowned out by the Chinese cultural juggernaut.
Choephel is dismayed to discover patriotic
Chinese songs blaring from loudspeakers in the
streets, and market stalls that sell only Chinese
pop recordings. Officially approved Tibetan
performing groups leave local audiences with
blank stares; Chinese authorities have exploited
the power of music in Tibetan culture by changing
lyrics of popular songs and supporting performers willing to sing them.

Choephel, who is scheduled to attend Doc Soup,
makes a powerful case for culture as a form of
resistance. In one heartbreaking scene he
interviews three women who were imprisoned and
tortured for refusing to sing the Chinese national anthem. They never gave in.

Recent documentaries such as the NFB's What
Remains of Us (2004) and 10 Questions for the
Dalai Lama (2006) give a glimpse of Tibetan
culture, but their main focus is the spiritual
and political work of the Dalai Lama. Tibet in
Song presents a far more penetrating and
well-rounded picture, not to mention voices that
will resonate with viewers long after the credits roll.
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