‘Chinese Oust Tibetan Package from Asian Film Festival’
(by Ronita Torcato | The Free Press Journal | August 16, 2004)
The Tibetan package of films has been axed from Third Eye Asian Film
Festival ostensibly from pressure exerted by the Chinese Embassy
in India though Festival Director Sudhir Nandgaonkar maintains that
a delay in receipt of the films is the reason for their removal.
Says Nandgaonkar, "The films came to us very late from Pune. The Aashay
Film Club and the Friends of Tibet in Pune promised us seven films, but
they brought only four and that too, very late. There are so many
technicalities to follow. We had sought censorship exemption for some
other packages in June and we got the clearance ten days later. Then, the
Chinese lodged an objection with the Ministry of Information and
Broadcasting. Once they protested, it would not be
possible for the Government of India to give censorship exemption,
so we have had to cancel the entire package.
It may be noted that the AFF had released festival fliers
in which the films on Tibet were listed alongside packages from various
parts of the globe.
The package included Martin Scorsese's 'Kundun', Jean Jacques Annaud's
'Seven Years in Tibet', 'Little Buddha', 'Himalaya' and 'The Cup'.
With D-Day on August 21 (Shyam Benegal opens the festival in lieu of
Maharashtra Governor Mohammed Fazal who drew up new travel itinerary)
isn't this adequate time for I&B clearance?
Says Nandgaonkar, "We don't have the time, we don't have the
energy to run around at this stage. I have a lot of work to do."
The delay in submission is an eyewash, insists Aspi Mistry of the Mumbai
Chapter of Friends of Tibet. "Nandgaonkar, who was coordinating with the
Pune chapter was fully aware that the films would arrive at the AFF office
in early August. Besides, we already had given him a list of the titles as
was required. Since the films in the package are old productions, none of
them would require a screening certificate, only an exemption. Besides,
the Chinese were objecting to two films in particular, 'Kundun' and 'Seven
Years in Tibet', it was assumed that the remaining films would be screened
In the event, the Friends of Tibet are co-ordinating with the Indian
Committee for Cultural Freedom, which publishes 'Freedom First' ('They
have been strong supporters of the Tibet cause for decades.') to mobilise
support against 'the illogic' of withdrawing the Tibetan films. The
Chinese have been specifically targetting Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet
they are biographical accounts of the Dalai Lama. Incidentally, the two
films are Western productions with minimal Tibetan involvement. Scorsese
shot Kundun in Morocco after being denied permission to shoot in these
parts, parts of 'Seven Years in Tibet' was shot clandestinely in Lhasa.
The NGO has also received the support and encouragement from film-makers
Patwardhan, Paromita Vora and Arun Khopkar among others as well as civil
including People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
As Patwardhan told this correspondent, "It's very bad news that any
government should give in to such pressure. The Chinese are being very
foolish. Anyone can get these films on DVD." As it happens, most of the
films have been screened earlier on at festivals in the Chavan Centre.
Says Patwardhan, "This unfortunate development shows how important it is
for the formulation of proper guidelines for festival screenings without
interference from the government or other busy-bodies.
Sethu Das, president of Friends of Tibet (INDIA) and Mira Sadgopal
coordinator of the Pune Chapter contend the Tibet film package is being
dropped following some pressure applied by the Chinese Consulate in
Mumbai. According to Friends of Tibet, Nandgaonkar even said the AFF would
have "to surrender" to the Chinese Embassy's demand. In an open letter to
Nandgaonkar, a copy of which has been made available with the press "with
modifications" Tenzin Tsundue, General Secretary, Friends of Tibet writes,
"It is in this country, where I was born as a Tibetan refugee, that I have
learnt the value of democracy, freedom and the right to live
like a human being. I am absolutely shocked how stealthily and cunningly
the Chinese are working to curb the truth by trying to wring your hands
through political pressure. The Chinese do this by using military force in
China, particularly in Tibet as the voice for freedom is strong. But very
little of it is known outside due to lack of independent media coverage,
as the media in China is state owned. When China is trying to silence the
Tibetan voice outside its borders, if we let them have their way like
this, it would amount to betraying the last hope for truth and justice.
I have myself spent months in Chinese jails in Tibet, and know
exactly how hopeless one feels under their army boots."
If we in the outside world, that too in the
most democratic country in the world,
succumb the Chinese pressure,
there is no hope for the millions in China and Tibet who are brutally
oppressed." Interestingly enough, the Chinese Embassy had 'intervened"
back in 2000 during the Festival of Tibet. The Chinese Embassy in Delhi
registered a complaint with the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi to
the effect that the festival was only a political one, not a cultural one;
they had also objected to the Tibetan feature films to be sreened.
The Friends of Tibet then sent a list of films to the External Affairs
Ministry for permission to screen and received the 'go ahead' signal.
It may interest readers to know that Seven Years in Tibet
(starring Brad Pitt) and Red Corner (starring Richard
Gere) were banned in 1997 in a film festival in Hong Kong.
The good news is the University of Liverpool which has an
educational partnership with Shanghai varsity and the Scottish
Parliament refused to buckle under Chinese pressure to call
off lectures by the Dalai Lama.
It may be noted that festivals the world over operate under specific
screening conditions which allow films to be exempted from censorship
regulations. No person under the age of 18 are permitted to enter, and the
audience must buy a subscription ticket. Third Eye Asian Film Festival
has pegged the festival ticket at the low rate of Rs 200/-.
Delegates may register at the YB Chavan Centre near Mantralaya
and Ravindra Natya Mandir at Prabhadevi.