‘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 without hindrance."

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 because 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 like Anand Patwardhan, Paromita Vora and Arun Khopkar among others as well as civil liberties organisations, 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 had then 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.