Isolated for centuries behind the Himalayas, Tibet captured the imagination of the rest of the world as a land of exotic mysteries and hidden secrets. Today, Tibet remains a land of mystery – but the secrets hidden there are the result of one of the most tragic clashes of cultures in human history. TIBET: CRY OF THE SNOW LION is the culmination of a ten-year effort to bring the story of Tibet to the big screen as never before.
Nine Journeys To Tibet What separates CRY OF THE SNOW LION from other films on the subject is its wealth of footage actually shot in Tibet. Producer-Director-Cinematographer Tom Peosay made nine journeys to the fabled “rooftop of the world,” filming in locations which included the historic streets of the capital of Lhasa; 18,000- foot-high Himalayan passes; and spectacular festivals in remote areas rarely seen by outsiders. Shooting at high altitudes presented unique challenges, says Tom: “When shooting a documentary film, you have to concentrate very deeply on what you’re doing because there’s often no chance for a second take; and if you’re shooting handheld, you often have to hold your breath for the shots, and that’s a difficult thing to do until after you’ve had sufficient time to acclimatize”
Besides the physical difficulties, the filmmakers faced unique challenges shooting in a country where information is tightly controlled. Producer/Co-Writer Victoria Mudd recalls, “We were always aware that we were in an occupied country. There was always a feeling of being watched.” Aware of the potential for serious consequences, the filmmakers did not conduct any interviews in Tibet, and everything they photographed was public and in the open. Still, Peosay was able to document the dire threats Tibetan culture faces in its homeland – and capture intimate glimpses of life that reveal the vitality of Tibetan culture even after fifty years of Chinese rule.
The filmmakers also shot extensively in Tibetan exile communities in India and Nepal, including the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of Tibetan Buddhists gathered for Kalachakra, or “Wheel of Time” teachings given by the Dalai Lama in India. Other shoots took the crew to Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida and London. Over three hundred hours of footage was shot for CRY OF THE SNOW LION during the course of its ten-year production.
Riveting Stories Sixty-eight interviews were conducted for the film, (38 of which appear in the final cut) providing an extraordinary breadth of perspective and insight. Tibetan survivors of torture and prisons; Chinese officials; western scholars and legislators; a Tibetan television cameraman, a Chinese human rights activist and a warrior nun are just some of the individuals who lend their voices to CRY OF THE SNOW LION. Interviewing the Dalai Lama was among the most memorable filmmaking experiences for the crew. “He’s genuinely interested in meeting people from all walks of life,” says Tom Peosay, “and his sense of humor, his disarming laugh, just pierces through any sense of protocol. As a journalist, over the years I’ve met presidents and movie stars and rock-and-roll stars, and there’s simply no one on this planet who connects to people on a one-to-one basis with such good heart -- as he puts it, ‘good human feeling.’ He melts you.”
Experiences from the interview process were a source of personal inspiration for the filmmakers; a sentiment they hope audiences will share. As Victoria Mudd puts it, “When you think of the suffering endured by the Tibetan people, it puts your own trials in perspective. These people are unbreakable. Ask yourself what is it about their teaching that helps them survive? They have a world view based on love, forgiveness, and compassion that helps them survive this kind of brutality. One Tibetan man who had been terribly tortured told us the very worst thing that happened to him during his years of imprisonment was that he almost lost his sense of compassion. Almost.”
Rare Archival and Undercover Footage Ten years of research enabled the filmmakers to uncover a collection of rare archival and undercover images never before assembled in one film. The powerful opening sequence of CRY OF THE SNOW LION combines Chinese police footage, never-before-published stills, images shot by witnesses, and riveting interview testimonies to cover the pivotal Lhasa demonstrations of 1987 with unprecedented detail and emotion. Working with some of the graphic images they discovered posed a particularly difficult challenge for the filmmakers. “It’s a balancing act when presenting this kind of disturbing or violent material: we didn’t want to make something unbearable,” says Victoria Mudd. “This was something we struggled over endlessly as filmmakers: how to bear witness and relay the extent of the horror without completely alienating the viewer.”
Post-Production Achievements State-of-the-art technology enabled the many different image sources to flow seamlessly together. Most of the film was shot in Betacam SP, the standard non-fiction television format, which was digitally up-converted to 24fps High Definition along with a myriad of other formats, then uniformly color-corrected before being transferred to 35mm film. Tom Peosay explains, “When up-converting the image, we actually used technology developed for use in 'smart bombs,' where every pixel has an individual processor on it, to make sure the image was absolutely perfect.” Sue Peosay (Producer/Co-Writer) finds that “It’s an interesting irony that ultra-modern technology developed for warfare is being used to produce a film that focuses on an ancient culture devoted to compassion and non-violence.”
A Long Journey It’s been a long journey from Tom and Sue Peosay’s almost accidental trip to Tibet as backpackers in 1987; from Victoria Mudd’s encounters with Tibetan refugees in Nepal in 1974; and (Producer) Maria Florio’s enchantment with a faraway land as her mother read “Seven Years in Tibet” to her as a child. There is a sense of urgency in getting the film to a wide audience, explains Victoria Mudd: “The Chinese are still executing Tibetans. It’s worse now in that every day the occupation moves farther along and becomes more ingrained; every day more Chinese come to Tibet, further extinguishing Tibetan culture.” But the film is not intended to be anti-Chinese. “I would hope that when Chinese people see this film, they would feel the same sort of concern and resolve I felt when I saw our partners’ film, BROKEN RAINBOW, and learned of the injustices still being perpetrated against Native Americans in our own country,” says Sue Peosay. “Any real solution to the current problems in Tibet will need to come from within China. So ultimately, my personal hope is that this film can serve as a stepping stone for dialogue that may someday build a bridge toward a meaningful reconciliation between China and Tibet.” The filmmakers find hope in the fact that even after fifty years under Chinese rule, Tibetans have not yet lost their cultural identity, and continue to work for a non-violent solution to their struggle. It’s an example with potent global relevance, now more than ever, as Tom Peosay explains: “Some people may ask, ‘Why should the problems in Tibet stand out in a world filled with suffering?’ I think it’s because of the Tibetan people’s unbroken spirit, strength, and desire to find compassionate solutions, instead of falling into despair or pursuing terrorism or violent acts against their enemies.”