Himachal Pradesh, India: Tibetan Cinema Education Furthered with Outdoor Movie Classics
When I was director of TIPA from 1980 to 1985, I worked on broadening the cultural perspective of my students and artistes by introducing them to world cinema.
This was before the days of videos. Unlike the Indian hill-stations of Darjeeling or Mussoorie, where Western films were shown regularly in local cinemas, Dharamshala only had the Himalaya Talkies which screened a scratched print of Shenandoah once every year or so, besides its regular fare of Hindi films.
TIPA had been given a 16mm projector by Rikha Lobsang Tenzin, secretary of the Education Department, and I managed to locate a film library in Bombay that had a great collection of early Hollywood classics in 16 mm, at affordable rates.
So, it was not long before TIPA students got to see King Kong (the wonderful old version), the Thief of Baghdad, Prisoner of Zenda, Flash Gordon, Robin Hood, Captain Blood, Buck Rogers, Ivanhoe, Tarzan, The Phantom, Destry Rides Again, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Mighty Joe Young (with stop-action animation by the great Ray Harryhausen), and many other memorable films of my childhood.
Soon afterward the then principal of the Tibetan Children's Village asked me to select films to show their students. TIPA secretary Tsering Migmar and projectionist Karma Gyaltsen organized outdoor screenings of these films for the McLeod Ganj public at the day school playground.
Everyone loved it. Following a screening of the great Toho classic, Godzilla, when the monster's radioactive breath and stomping feet had destroyed most of Tokyo, an old Tibetan was overheard remarking wistfully.
Now that's the kind of animal (simchen) we need to send to Beijing. We also showed Nosferatu (1922), the seminal film of vampire lore and German Expressionism (complements of the West German Embassy in Delhi), and the early Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi. Tibetans called Dracula, dre-ku-la, the dre being the Tibetan generic word for ghosts, demons and monsters. Dracula's assistant, Renfeld (I think he was called) was dubbed with one of the wonderful contractions that the Tibetan language is capable of dre-yok or demon servant.
A more organized and broader effort at public film education was undertaken at Dharamshala by the Amnye Machen Institute. It initially hosted World Cinema Appreciation Evenings , with screenings of and discussion on such great films of national liberation as, The Battle of Algiers, and A Vad (The Prosecution) by the award winning Hungarian film-maker, Sandor Sara who attended the Dharamshala screening.
A Kurosawa Retrospective was held after the death of the great director, and the world premiere of the Shadow Circus: the CIA in Tibet, by Tenzin Sonam and Ritu Sarin. AMI also hosted a screening of documentaries by Tibetan directors and video-shorts by first time filmmakers.