Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

There are a lot of bad things happening in the world, many stories so easy to ignore. At the top of the list is the destruction of the rain forest, which has circled the equatorial earth for 60 million years. 40% of the primary tropical rainforest was destroyed in the last 50 years of the 20th Century!  57 acres of rainforest are destroyed every minute!  Mankind destroys 17 million trees worldwide every day (that's equal to an area three times bigger than Switzerland destroyed every year)!  At last count there were approximately 2,700 man-made fires raging in the Amazon alone. Twenty five percent of our prescription medicine comes from 10% of the known rainforest plants.  But, only an estimated 5-25% of all plant species have been found.  1,300 of the known 2,000 cancer-fighting plants come from the rainforests.  But only 1% of the total number of plants have been studied for medicinal properties! Imagine those that have been destroyed forever, and those that are being destroyed forever as we speak!

Below that, but no less dismaying is the treatment of native Tibetans by the Chinese Communists. Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion, ten years in the making, documents this destruction with astounding pictures and interviews.

Immediately after the Chinese Communists ousted Chiang Kai Shek in 1949 they invaded Tibet and sealed it off from the rest of the world. Upon Mao Tse Tung’s death 25 years later hope arose among Tibetans as Mao’s successors permitted an exile delegation to return to prepare for discussions with China. But there was such an outpouring of weeping, grief-stricken crowds imploring the delegation to tell the Dalai Lama of their suffering that China quickly withdrew its permission. Touching films document the hordes that descended on the delegation.

There are individual stories of heroism of Tibetans, like Palden Gyatso, a young monk in 1959, who was captured in the brutal crackdown after the Dalai Lama escaped and spent the next 33 years in captivity, subjected to violent physical and psychological torture. He escaped and brought with him the electric prods (sometimes put in his mouth) and other instruments used to torture him. He has testified many places, including the U.S. Congress.

The CIA apparently supported Tibetan resistance, but, according to this film, this ended during the Nixon Administration starting with Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China. Now, according to the film, because of the burgeoning Chinese economy, support for Tibetan resistance is waning because of fear of alienating Chinese economic power.

Included are excerpts from an interview with an arrogant, hateful Chinese Communist spokesman at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., Chen Guo Ching, who says, at one point, “It is totally unacceptable to the Chinese government for officials of any country to meet him (the Dalai Lama) in any form.”

Of the 68 interviews conducted for the film, 38 appear in the final cut. Included are Robert Ford, who lived in Tibet before the Chinese invasion, was there at the time of the invasion, and was imprisoned by the Chinese for five years, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, President Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations (“What the west has done is avert its eyes while genocide takes place in Tibet.”), Robert Thurman, Uma’s father, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk and a close friend of the Dalai Lama, Wei Jingsheng, Chinese human rights advocate who was imprisoned for more than 18 years, Ani Pachen, former nun, imprisoned and tortured for 21 years,  Ama Adhe Tapontsang, a woman who survived 28 brutal years of Chinese imprisonment, and the Dalai Lama himself.

One big glitch for me was when one of the interviewees said, (I’m paraphrasing here), ”The Chinese have to get real democracy, which requires…independent trade unions.” What? Since when is democracy defined by having “independent trade unions?” It’s too bad that such political bias shows up in what should be a nonpolitical tract about freedom. Such a quote denigrates what the filmmakers are trying to do. They left almost half of the interviews they conducted out of the final cut. They should have cut this statement, instead of emphasizing it. Another detraction was the sound track which was burdened by dropouts throughout and made the audio often disconcerting.

Produced by Tom and Sue Peosay, Victoria Mudd, and Maria Florio, they all came together from different starts to create this so easy to ignore story. They used never before seen stills, Chinese police footage, and images shot by witnesses. Over 300 hours of footage was shot during its ten years of production. Producer-Director-Photographer Tom Peosay took nine separate trips to Tibet. I’m told that Narrator Martin Sheen donated his services, as did Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Ed Harris, Frank Christopher, Edward Edwards, Shirley Knight, and Lynn Marta for their voiceovers.

While the film is too long, 104 minutes, it is such a compelling story that it should not be missed. The photography of Tibet is as gorgeous as the footage and stories of Chinese atrocities are disturbing. But the story of the destruction of this peaceful civilization, told by the people being destroyed, is something you won’t soon forget.

April 2, 2004

The End