It’s hard to believe this year is the 25th anniversary of White Crane Films! It does not seem so long ago, at least in our minds, that we started the company. We were living in London at the time, struggling indie filmmakers barely keeping afloat in the turbulent waters of the British television industry. We had just embarked upon our first major documentary, The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche, and White Crane Films was born as a result.
And what a ride it has been since then! Exhilarating, frustrating, challenging, depressing, but always deeply rewarding and fulfilling, we cannot imagine any another direction our lives could have taken. And two and a half decades later, that journey continues with undimmed passion and pleasure. So, it seems entirely appropriate that we celebrate this anniversary, not by looking backwards, but by looking forward to fresh challenges and uncharted territories.
It is therefore with great excitement that we would like to announce the launch of our second feature film, The Sweet Requiem. Ever since we made our first feature, Dreaming Lhasa, more than 10 years ago, we have wanted to make another dramatic feature. The experience of working on Dreaming Lhasa opened our eyes to a whole new way of telling stories and at the same time taught us the complexities of working with non-professional actors and a larger crew. We were keen to put this into practice but got caught up in a number of very involving documentary films and then, for the past three years, with launching and running the Dharamshala International Film Festival. But through it all, we have been working steadily on the script of The Sweet Requiem.
This is a project that has had a long gestation period, having undergone several changes of character and location before arriving at this point. The essential story, however, has remained unchanged since we were first motivated to tackle the subject. The initial inspiration for the film comes from the incident in September 2006 on the 5,800-metre Nangpala Pass on the Tibet-Nepal border. Chinese border guards opened fire on a group of Tibetans attempting to escape to India and shot dead a 17-year-old nun and injured several others. This brutal killing, which was captured on video by a Romanian mountain climber, raised many questions in our minds: Who were these escapees and what was their journey like? Why, after nearly 50 years of Chinese occupation, were Tibetans still risking their lives to escape to India? And why were so many of them children? And what happened to them after they made it to India?
After China relaxed some of its policies in Tibet in the early eighties, a second wave of Tibetan refugees started pouring into India. Among them was an unusually high proportion of young children who were brought or sent by their families to India to receive a Tibetan education in one of the exile schools. Often making a hazardous trek across the Himalayas, the exact number of those that perished on that journey is not known but it is certain that many did not survive. These children, more often than not, never returned home to their families. In many cases, they lost contact with them completely. In a cruel twist of fate, they were both exiled and orphaned.
Meanwhile, the larger political situation in Tibet has continued to simmer at a critical point. Since 2009, more than 130 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest against Chinese rule, demanding freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland. Despite the desperation and magnitude of these actions, the world remains largely ignorant of what is transpiring in Tibet. But these events continue to impact the lives of all Tibetans.
The Sweet Requiem, then, is an attempt to weave together these disparate strands of the current Tibetan situation – both in exile and in Tibet – through an intimate and personal story that is part psycho-political thriller and part escape drama. At the same time, it is an exploration of the themes of exile, memory and guilt, and the unexpected consequences of the choices we make in life. It is a tale of suffering and forgiving, of deep inner anguish and the desperate need of the exile to find redemption and closure. In this, the story transcends its specific context and touches upon universal concerns.
Last month, we were exceptionally fortunate to have our script selected for the inaugural Drishyam-Sundance Institute Screenwriters’ Lab in Goa. The four-day session with seasoned scriptwriters and directors from India and abroad was an intense and rewarding experience. With the feedback, suggestions and comments we received from our advisors, we are ready to take the script to another level and are currently working on yet another draft.
At the same time, over the past few months, with the help of a small team, we have been actively scouting for locations and casting and auditioning potential actors. These have been entirely through social media and word-of-mouth. All our applicants are non-professional but we have nevertheless been very impressed with the talent and enthusiasm on display, and have selected many of our key characters already.
Under any circumstances, making an independent film is a mammoth undertaking but making one on a contemporary Tibetan subject, in Tibetan and with an all-Tibetan cast is an especially daunting challenge. There is no exile Tibetan film industry to speak of, distribution channels for Tibetan films are non-existent, and there are no domestic funding bodies or government agencies to fall back on. Funding can only come from individual supporters and a limited pool of international donor organisations, for which competition is fierce. We are currently trying to raise funds and remain optimistic.
If you haven’t already, please like our Facebook page, stay in touch, follow our adventures and spread the word.
If you are interested in supporting the film, getting involved in some way, or helping us to raise funds, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. As always, we appreciate your support.
And finally, the dates for the Dharamshala International Film Festival this year are 5-8 November 2015. Join us there for great movies and a good time in the mountains!