Two years ago, the Beijing Olympics sparked the biggest uprising of the Tibetan people inside and outside their country since China invaded it in the ‘50s and imposed a harsh, repressive rule against the native population. This protest prompted documentarians Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam to make a fresh examination of the plight of the Tibetans still craving independence after a half century of either homeland misery or increasingly long exile.
Their beautiful, stirring and inescapably elegiac “The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom” illuminates the increasing complexity and contradictions in regard to the role of the Dalai Lama, exiled in India since 1959. By the 1980s the Dalai Lama concluded that the dream of an independent Tibet was unrealistic in the face of Chinese might. Instead, he proposed his Middle Way, petitioning China not for independence but at least for autonomy and the right to preserve Tibetan culture and religion, but was rebuffed.
In the post-Olympic world, the Dalai Lama and the impassioned leaders of the young protesters cling to the hope that China might unravel as quickly as did the Soviet Union. In the meantime, Tibetans have become a disenfranchised minority in Lhasa, not sharing in the vast economic development of their country by the Chinese. Sarin and Sonam make it clear that they and the many Tibetans they interview believe that is all the more reason to hold on even more strongly to the dream of independence and freedom.
“The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom.” MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Playing at the Monica 4-Plex, Santa Monica.