Opinion: Why I’m crowdfunding to make my Tibetan feature film “Dharamsala”

By Tenzin Dazel

In 2007, Tibetan-Indian filmmaking duo Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin were interviewed about their debut feature ‘Dreaming Lhasa’ during which they discussed the difficulties they faced in getting their project off the ground. They said in the interview “we were working in a bit of a vacuum because there’s nothing that comes close to a Tibetan film industry, and we had to put it all together on a very limited budget.”[1] Today, fifteen years later, even though there have been many positive developments in terms of Tibetan art and creativity, I find myself in a similar position for my first feature film, “DHARAMSALA”.

I made my first two shorts with almost no budget. ‘SEEDS’, an experimental film about young Tibetans in Delhi, was shot in 2009 while I was on vacation. It was filmed with friends and volunteers as actors and a Super 8 camera that I had bought in a second-hand store in Paris. Likewise, with “ROYAL CAFÉ” in 2016, a film about the fleeting life of recently immigrated Tibetans in Paris, it was more “begging, borrowing and stealing” than “location budget, team budget, talent budget”. Despite so many risks and challenges in making independent Tibetan films in exile, I am very proud of these two films, mainly because they tell about who we are today and how our lives unfold. These are stories no one else wants or can tell.

The reason we were able to produce “ROYAL CAFE” without a budget is because it was a compact film that was set in a city and with virtually all of the local cast and crew. However, a film like “DHARAMSALA” has all the problems inherent in the practice of Tibetan cinema in exile. Unlike almost any other society, Tibetans in exile face a situation where we are scattered across countries and continents. This makes it all the more difficult to work with the already very limited number of creatives involved in the filmmaking process.

While making “Dreaming Lhasa,” Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin talked about the casting challenges because at the time, there were very few Tibetan film actors with acting experience. Luckily, I am fortunate to now work in a time when many Tibetan talents are appearing in front of and behind the camera. Since “ROYAL CAFE”, many Tibetan artists like these have expressed their trust and encouragement to me and offered to work with me on future projects. Thanks to their help and support, even during the entire period of the pandemic, I was able to gather cast and crew members, research locations, and complete an 80-page script for “DHARAMSALA.” For example, lead actor Tenzin Dalha, who came from the theater, made the transition to a successful career in Bollywood. His films have screened around the world and are also on Netflix. Losang Gyatso, based in the United States, may be familiar to those who have seen “Kundun” and he also kindly offered his amazing artwork as a benefit on the crowdfunding page. Yeshe Gyaltag is a Swiss born and raised Tibetan singer and artist, now based in New York. She released pioneering electronic sounds and her most recent work was “49 Days”, a dance and sound-based play that premiered in early 2022 in Zurich.

The cast and crew I have assembled are the shining lights of our Tibetan creative scene and I am thrilled to proudly show the world how talented we are and what we can do artistically together. However, to bring all this to life, I must first raise the capital. That’s why I started an Indiegogo crowdfunding page [ https://igg.me/at/Dharamsalafilmproject/x/37773#/ ] because basically there are no other options to raise capital for Tibetan language films that speak to Tibetan audiences. Institutions and media companies that might finance a travel film, or a documentary on Tibetan culture or religion aimed at a Western audience, have no interest in a film like mine. In addition, China’s growing influence and willingness to pressure cultural institutions regarding Tibet has increased self-censorship and alienation from projects like ours. The funds I raise will go towards travel, board and lodging, nominal salaries for cast and crew so that we begin to establish a culture of film production and post-production.

The Indiegogo page presents “DHARAMSALA”, the story of the movie and also the story behind it. I hope fellow Tibetans and moviegoers will take the opportunity to financially support Tibetan creators so that we can tell our own stories in our own way. I sincerely hope that in 2037, 15 years from now, a beginning Tibetan filmmaker will find himself inspired by the foundations laid by previous Tibetan filmmakers and work in a financially resilient and prosperous Tibetan creative environment.

Link to Indiegogo page: https://igg.me/at/Dharamsalafilmproject/x/37773#/

[1] indieWIRE INTERVIEW | Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, co-directors of “Dreaming Lhasa”

(The opinions expressed are his own)

The author is an independent Tibetan filmmaker based in Paris, France. She made her first short film “SEEDS” in 2009, followed by her longer short film “ROYAL CAFÉ” in 2016. “DHARAMSALA” will be her first feature film. Follow https://www.instagram.com/dazelfilms/ for updates.

You can watch his two previous films at www.dazelfilms.com


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