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Review: Tibet in Song

A musical travelogue with some teeth
By GERALD PEARY  |  November 11, 2010
3.5 3.5 Stars


The benign title of Ngawaang Choephel's documentary gives little clue to the biting, powerful story that's told. In 1995, the filmmaker, a Tibetan refugee living in the United States, returned to his country of birth as a musicologist, filming and recording his country's traditional tunes and dance. But his search had a political context — the major reason Tibetan culture is vanishing is that it's been forbidden in the half-century of Chinese rule. What Choephel found everywhere were Communist propaganda songs and Chinese pop kitsch. It's not surprising, then, that two months into his trip, he was arrested by Chinese authorities and sentenced to 18 years in a lethal prison. Released in 2002, he resumed work on his film. This documentary is part authentic Tibetan music, part Tibetan travelogue, part Tibetan history in flashback since Mao's 1950 invasion, and, finally, the story of Choephel's imprisonment, where, packed in a cell with eight other prisoners, he felt Tibet, he says, from the cruel inside.

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