By Tashi Wangchuk
WASHINGTON DC, US, 23 August 2017
I first met Tsewang Gonpo in New York City in 2005 when I was visiting the Big Apple to meet my friends and cousin from UB, Upstate New York. At that time, a locally-made Tibetan film, New York Marey Meyok Rey, was doing the rounds. Many Tibetans found it interesting as the movie told the story of their new and conflicting life in the US. Tsewang had already collaborated with some of the well-known Tibetan films such as Dreaming Lhasa, Samsara, and Valley Of Flowers as a crew. I remember him aspiring to also become a filmmaker during one of our discussions about cinema in general and locally-made film in particular.
Then after eight years, I met Tsewang again in 2013, this time with a large digital camera and a tripod on his shoulder as he was taping the March 10 protest in New York with his classmate as a part of his school project. He was studying filmmaking at New York Digital Film Academy. I was quite amazed by his dedication and more importantly for nurturing his dream for such a long time. I am happy that he has now come up with this short, Flame Of Hope, which he has not only written and directed, but also edited and produced.
If I were to avoid any subject to make a film, it would certainly be the ongoing self-immolations both inside as well as outside Tibet. How could one do justice to a subject as complicated and noble as taking one’s life for a greater cause? What goes through their minds? What exactly is their message to ordinary people like me? How painfully must they have endured in the whole process? Nowadays many advise Tibetans not to engage in the act, which is totally above my head. Do we truly understand the full spectrum of the situation to guide people what to do and what not to? More importantly, do we have any alternative to supplement the ongoing fiery protests?
With these many dilemmas and conflicts in my mind, I prepared to watch Flame of Hope with much reluctance, so to speak. Fortunately, Flame of Hope is a story of a Tibetan family in the face of the ongoing self-sacrifices, and it does not delve into the psyches of the self-immolators. It is a story of you, me, and everyone who is equally concerned with the ongoing trend. Tsewang did an excellent job of showing his characters confused and terrified as we all are. The best part is that he did not conclude his film with any easy message, as we can’t predict the effects of the ongoing fiery protests a few years down the road.
The film also has some interesting characters. Pala, played by Tseten Lhargyal, is by far the most convincing one. He is in a huge dilemma, as he has to keep a delicate balance between his hope and despair, since the Buddhism that encapsulates the very foundation of Tibetan history and culture prohibits suicides in the first place. Ama la, played by Samten Choedon, perfectly fits the stereotypical Tibetan housewife image, well-versed not only in pulling delicious Tibetan Thentuk but also the leg of her not-so-studious and rock-song loving son played by Tenzin Gochak.
The film is also riddled with several drawbacks that every first-timer (including myself) stumbles upon in their life. Sadly, I must testify that filmmaking has to be among the few professions where one gets to learn the art mostly through your own mistakes and not through others. Hence, the good part is that while you are reading this review, Tsewang had already become more enlightened than he was when he was making this movie.
I wish my dear friend all the best in his endeavors to become a successful filmmaker in the years to come. We need more Tibetans telling our dreams, experiences, and aspirations. Only we can do justice to our stories, not others, not even Spielberg or Soderberg.
Watch the film at You Tube
About the author
Tashi Wangchuk is a Washington DC-based independent filmmaker and TV producer whose earlier works include the feature-length films My Son Tenzin and Richard Gere is My Hero, India's Doordarshan-commissioned film Democracy in Exile, among others.
More articles by Tashi Wangchuk on Tibet Sun.