There are political and social issues you come to out of a passion for change and there are those you almost breathe in, the atmosphere of a culture inhaled like a lung full of indigenous provocation. Melding these two impulses, Indian-born filmmakers Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam have released a committed body of work supporting the plight of Tibet and its exiled people. Now based in Dharamsala, this inseparable couple began making engaged documentaries in the early 1980s, launching their careers with The New Puritans: The Sikhs of Yuba City, followed by the well-received The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche (1991). Subsequent works would be almost exclusively concerned with Tibetan autonomy in all its complexity, best seen in their even-tempered The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom (2010) which balances the Dalai Lama's “Middle Way” against a younger generation's impatience for independence. In 2005, Sarin and Sonam wrote and directed Dreaming Lhasa, an intriguing feature about a young Tibetan exile who seeks out the stories of Tibet's displaced populace. Filled with political maneuvering, the grandeur of landscape, and an intimate glimpse of Buddhist culture, this handsome film became an important entry in what might be called a nascent Himalayan cinema.
Serendipitously, Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam's story begins in the East Bay where they met while Sarin was earning her M.F.A. at the California College of the Arts and Sonam was at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. It was from this base that they made their first documentary about the Sikh community in the San Joaquin Valley. After several years in England, Sarin and Sonam returned to India and formed White Crane Films. To foster a conversation among the diverse ethnic groups of their hometown, they launched the Dharamsala International Film Festival, now in its third year.
We are most pleased to welcome Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam to CAAMFest and BAM/PFA as part of our ongoing Committed Cinema series. Join us on Thursday, March 20 for a special conversation with the artists and Gaetano Kazuo Maida, executive director of the Buddhist Film Foundation.