ever there was a documentary short that cried out for the IMAX treatment, this
would be it. The expansive vistas are truly breathtaking, but this is not
merely travelogue. It is a scathing critique of cultural insensitivity and
exploitation, shot guerilla style without the sanction of the Chinese authorities.
That is usually a promising indicator and Russell O. Bush’s Vultures of Tibet (trailer here) is no exception. Indeed, it is a
particularly fitting selection of the American Museum of Natural History’s 2014 Margaret Mead Film Festival, which screens the twenty-one minute documentary this
Tibetan “Sky Burial” represents a supreme act of Buddhist charity, in which the
body is offered to the great Griffon Vultures, closing the great cycle of life.
However, photos and videos of the vultures devouring bodies of the devout have
become a crass internet sensation, inspiring a cottage industry of wildly
Westerners also come to gawk, it is the Chinese sightseers who seem to be
particularly invasive. Clearly, there are multiple meanings to the titular
vultures, who become a metaphor for a metaphor. Obviously, the Chinese tourists
are vulture-like intruders, but they are really manifestations of a wider, more
insidious cultural and political exploitation.
greater perspective, Bush interviews several Tibetans, maintaining the
integrity of their commentary, but re-recording their responses with the voices
of Tibetan exiles to preserve their anonymity. Like the best Iranian films,
much of the credits are simply ascribed to “anonymous,” which says quite a bit
about the human rights situation for average Tibetans.
is a particularly effective film, because it is
not overtly political, per se, but the implications are inescapable. It is also
quite impressive on a technical level, with considerable credit due to
cinematographer Drew Xanthopoulos for the incredible shots he captured. It is a
challenging work that ought to strike a nerve with festival patrons. Highly recommended,
Vultures of Tibet screens this
Saturday (10/25) with Tender (an
Australian funerary-themed feature doc), as part of this year’s Margaret Mead
Labels: Documentary, Margaret Mead '14, Short Films, Tibet