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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Bringing Tibet Home"

2016/09/10 | 486 views | Permalink

Tenzing Rigdol is a Tibetan artist who lives in New York. Way back in 2011, following the death of his father, Tenzing Rigdol decided to construct an art installation made of Tibetan soil in India. The task proved to be more difficult than expected. Smuggling a few water bottles of Tibetan soil across the border, that's one thing, but Tenzing Rigdol needed much, much more than that.

The main flaw in "Bringing Tibet Home" is that the smuggling operation isn't all that interesting. Once the logistical difficulties behind smuggling all that dirt are explained, all Tenzing Rigdol and his shooting crew can do is wait around and do nothing. They never expected to have to transfer all that dirt themselves and the smugglers who are rather understandably do not want to be filmed doing so.

So if we're not watching the smuggling what does director Tenzin Tsetan Choklay do with all the screentime? For the most part he films the borderland zone where the smuggling transfer eventually takes place. And while this has pretty much nothing to do with the art project directly, the mere portrait of such an obscure far-off place is reasonably interesting to look at in its own right.

In terms of subtext, there is an obvious propagandistic bent at work in "Bringing Tibet Home". Expatriates of Tibetan ancestry like Tenzing Rigdol and Tenzin Tsetan Choklay clearly believe that the Chinese occupation of Tibet is wrong. "Bringing Tibet Home" considers this to be such a self-evident position that no real argument is ever advanced explaining why, which makes it difficult to objectively access the documentary's politics on merit.

But if looked at solely in context of the dirt smuggling operation, the emotional core of the "Bringing Tibet Home" is pretty solid. By and large the documentary is just lying in wait of the pay-off, when Tenzing Rigdol finally sets up the installation and people young and old, from far and wide, take joy in getting a good fistful of what their homeland actually feels like. Propaganda or not, the sheer joy created by Tenzing Rigdol's project is very real. We can see it in the participants' eyes.

Personally, it was a little hard for me to relate to. My ancestors showed up in the Western hemisphere three hundred years ago. A long time by our country's standards, but virtually nothing anywhere else. What's more, the closest thing we've ever had to foreign oppression is when the British asked us to pay taxes and we told them to bugger off. I have no ancestral soil to long for and no concept of what it's like to be told I can't come home.

Koreans very much have that experience though, which is why Korean film funds provided such a large amount of financial and logistical support to "Bringing Tibet Home". While not especially remarkable as a documentary in its own right, "Bringing Tibet Home" does offer an always useful glimpse into how another culture has had to adapt, in its own way, to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Arirang, arirang indeed.

Review by William Schwartz

"Bringing Tibet Home" is directed by Tenzin Tsetan Choklay and narrated by Kim Min-jong

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